Saturday, July 13, 2002

I'VE ADDED A BUNCH OF NEW LINKS the left-hand side of this site over the past few days. I've been noticing a lot of good new blogs recently, but I may have missed some in the shuffle, so if you feel like your site is worthy of a link from this prestigious outlet please send an e-mail and let me know.
PASHTUN BIAS WATCH: The WaPo in a story about the latest complaints from from the Western media's favorite Afghan ethnic group (the folks who brought Afghanistan the Burkha, Golubdin Hekmatyar, and the Taliban), says:
Pashtuns account for nearly half the Afghan population and have traditionally ruled the ethnically diverse country, while minority Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks and other smaller groups have been largely limited to regional power roles.
According to the CIA World Factbook, however, Pashtuns account for 38% of the Afghan population which makes this claim about equivalent to saying George McGovern got nearly half of the vote in 1972. Uzbeks and Tajiks (the groups the Pashtuns claim have too much power) combine for 31% of the population which isn't a significantly smaller number. Based on this, it strikes me as eminently fair for the Pashtuns to control the Presidency and the Interior Ministry while Defense, Foreign, and some minor ministries remain in Tajik/Uzbek hands. Why Post reporters can't look up this ethnographic info in the factbook before repeating bogus claims by self-interested political leaders is a bit beyond me (Afghanistan is the first country in the damn thing after all). The article also continues the Western media's unfortunate habit of referring to local political leaders with followings of armed men "warlords" if they're Tajik or Uzbek and "tribal leaders" if they're Pashtuns.

Also keep in mind that the Tajik and Uzbek "warlords" were fighting the Taliban long before the US woke up to their unique brand of evil whereas these much-vaunted Pashtun leaders stayed on the sidelines until after US bombing and Northern Alliance ground forces had broken the back of the (largely Pashtun) Taliban.

CONNECT THE DOTS: Bush's lawyer in the dubious Harken Energy trading embroglio was none other than Robert W. Jordon our current ambassador to the Saudi entity. Anyone who looks at our Middle East policy without blinders on can see that the administration is not employing some kind of brilliant rope-a-dope strategy — it's dancing to the tune of the same energy-industry benefactors who pull the strings in domestic policy. What's interesting is that though leftists have been quick to make the connection between oil and US foreign policy, they've consistently drawn the lines the wrong way, arguing that hawkish actions like the toppling of the Taliban were driven by energy interests whereas, in fact, the reverse is true and it's corporate ties to the Gulf Monarchies that are preventing us from coping adequately with the Islamist threat.
HALLIBURTON, WHICH DICK CHENEY USED TO RUN (with the help of advice "above and beyond usual accounting" from Arthur Andersen) is now getting some non-fraudulent profits through big time government contracts.
FOXES GUARDING THE HENHOUSE WATCH: let's see Ari Fleischer spin this one away — Bush's top corporate watchdog was the chairman of the audit committee of a company fined for fraud.

UPDATE: Win Fitzpatrick writes:

I'm positive that the WH spin will be: Of course, he knew nothing. The Sgt. Schulz defense. This, of course, raises the question: If the guy was so oblivious that he couldn't ferret out corporate fraud when he was the chairman of the company's audit committe, how in the hell is he going to be able to ferret it out when he's on the outside looking in, probably through a stone wall?
He's right, and this is the exact same problem with Bush's know-nothing defense to the Harken charges (which is probably true; now that I think about it if I had a super-cool secret plan to defraud people I wouldn't tell a moron like George W. Bush about it). We were told that this administration was filled with seasoned and highly competant businessmen who were going to bring the "can-do" ethic of private sector efficiency to the federal government. Instead it turns out that they were either crooks or patsies.
PEJMANPUNDIT SAYS THE CORPORATE SCANDALS won't make a good issue for the democrats since democrats have been complicit in the abuses. Maybe, but people don't vote for parties, they vote for individual candidates, and so even if one judges that both parties have been equally at fault, the tainting of current officeholders should be good for challengers and bad for incumbents. Since the Republicans have more congressmen that means it'll be good for the democrats in the 2002 house races. Even though the dems have marginally more Senators, there are actually more Republican Senators up for re-election in 2002 (1998 and 2000 were good years for Senate Democrats) so that's also good for Democrats. The President, of course, is also a Republican, so as long as the Democrats have a non-tainted candidate to run against Bush (and not every dem was complicit, so there's no reason why they won't) that'll also be good for the Democrats.

Advantage: Democrats. Plus, the parties weren't equally complicit which is also good for the Democrats.

SASHA VOLOKH'S OLD LAW REVIEW ARTICLE on the old saying that it's better to let ten guilty men go free than have on innocent man be punished is really funny. Really. Especially the sacrilicious first part.

Friday, July 12, 2002

ARG! ALL THE POSTS I'VE WRITTEN aren't posting. And blogger keeps insisting that I last published at 2:35 PM no matter how many times I try to republish.

UPDATE: As you can tell from the fact that you're reading this, the problem seems to be solved.

BRENDAN O'NEILL COMPLAINS that many blogs are poorly written. I agree. It's as though any old person can just go set up some website for free and start writing whatever the hell he wants to and consumers need to decide for themselves which sites are worth reading and which should be ignored. The horror. The horror. We need some standards here people!
ROBERT REICH IS WEIGHING IN on the corporate scandals. Only problem — he's running for governor of Massachusetts an office that has just about nothing to do with resolving this situation. This sounding off on issues that need to be resolved at the national or even international level has been a consistent theme of the Reich campaign so far, providing the best evidence out there that the whole affair is more an exercize in ego than public service.
IMPORTANT ETIQUETTE QUESTION: My girlfriend and I broke up about three weeks ago and I've been wondering whether or not I should take her off my AIM Buddy List now. Is that how you get closure? Goddamn information age.
COPS IN LA BEAT UP A SUSPECT, get caught on videotape, and then react by arresting and beating the videotaper not the offending officers. Nice work boys.
CHARLES DODGSON IS BACK and he's none too happy about Bush's Harken Energy shenanigans or the "liberal" media's coverage of the story.
TAPPED SAYS, LET THE GUN NUTS HAVE THEIR WAY and arm pilots, that way when something goes wrong, the GOP and the NRA will have to take the blame. I guess they're joking, but for TAPPED to wish for the deaths of hundreds of people in order to provide an opportunity to score political points is really kind of immoral. I also don't really think this guns on planes idea is that bad, but it's not good either — I'm almost positive it'll make no difference at all. The symbolism, however, is crucial, so I think it's vital that we snitty gun-grabbing East Coast elitists win out so we can continue our campaign to disarm America and place the entire country under the iron fist of government bureaucracy.
YESTERDAY I RECOMMENDED Win Fitzpatrick's Homeobox but actually just provided a link to myself. Anyways, this link works, click on it and be enlightened.
I'M TAKING INTENSIVE SPANISH CLASSES this summer, so I thought I'd give blogging El Pais a try. Other than a non-functioning opinion page (it kept giving me their June 26 op-eds) I also see that former Argentinian junta leader Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri is now in prison for the various crimes of his rule:
El ex general Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri, presidente de Argentina entre 1981 y 1982, permanece desde ayer en prisión preventiva bajo la acusación de secuestro, tortura, asesinato y desaparición de militantes Montoneros.

ATTEMPT AT TRANSLATION:Ex-General Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri, President of Argentina from 1981 to 1982, will be imprisoned permanently under accusations of kidnapping, torturing, killing, and "disappearing" Montoneros militants.

I think many parallels can be drawn between America's deeply misguided Latin America policy of the 1980s and our equally misguided coddling of brutal regimes in the Gulf today.
THE POOR MAN SAYS John Derbyshire is off his ten worst media figures list. The replacement — Bill "no spin" O'Reilly.
THE WASHINGTON POST DISCUSSING MY tentative favorite presidential candidate Howard Dean says he's trying to follow in Jimmy Carter's footsteps, but if you look at it, I think you'll see that Jed Bartlett's campaign is the real model here. If I were Dean I'd be working hard for Aaron Sorkin and/or Martin Sheen's endorsement at this point.
DEMOSTHENES PROVIDES AN ELOQUENT DEFENSE of the point-of-view that's slowly destroying American liberalism — the adoption of realist (or "neo"-realist) attitudes toward international relations. Me, I'm a liberal, and I think that means I ought to have a liberal attitude toward international relations — bear any burder, shoulder any load, the whole deal. Demosthenes points out — as opponents of starry-eyed internationalism are want to do — that Wilsonian idealism and the League of Nations ended in a fiasco. True, but Woodrow Wilson was an fuckup in so many fields of life (he became President in 1912, looked at what was wrong with America, and decided that black people had too many rights so he segregated the post office. Someday I hope to write a book entitled Woodrow Wilson, The Worst President) that it seems wrong to tar an entire school of thought with the failings of one institutional design. The fact that many constitutional democracies have wound up relapsing into dictatorship doesn't prove, after all, that constitutions in general are a bad idea.
LOOKS CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS ARE starting to break ranks on corporate oversight legislation, and it's about time. Bush really had done a remarkable job of keeping his party pretty solidly behind him pre-September 11, especially considering that he wasn't exactly elected in a landside. After 9/11, of course, he was untouchable to his fellow Republicans, and that's what's so significant about this turning of events. No matter how much conservative pundits may try to convince us that these scandals aren't really a big deal, conservative political operatives no better and they're telling their boys to duck-and-cover.
WILL HUDSON HAS WRITTEN SOME PRETTY INTERESTING "confessions of a conservative" though I think "confessions of an ex-liberal" would express his views better. I don't, needless to say, agree with his conclusion that liberalism is not "rationally defensible" or think that people should become conservatives, but I always think it's interesting to hear from people why they came to hold their political beliefs. Maybe I'll write my "confessions" one day.
I'VE BEEN GETTING SOME CRITICISM LATELY for my insistence in this blog that libertarians ought to be opposing any form of government funding for public schools and in favor of letting sad orphan children die in the streets. These, I am told, are straw man positions not held by any sensible libertarians who just want freedom and other good stuff. To be clear, let me admit that while I've known a number of people who call themselves libertarians, I've only ever met one who actually held these views and that the man in question is also the only libertarian author who I've ever read who supported them. I'm not suggesting that these are the actual views of actual libertarians, only that they seem to me to follow logically from premises that many libertarians use in making other arguments. Nevertheless, it occurs to me that making some distinctions is in order.

When I talk about libertarians I'm referring to people who, like my former teacher Robert Nozick hold that a strict right to property is a fundamental moral principle. Basically the position here is that people have an absolute right to what they own and that for someone to take their property from them is theft, no matter what the purpose for which the property was taken. Under this view there should either be no taxation or else perhaps some kind of a flat fee to pay only for a police force to protect the right to property. Given the non-ideal circumstances of the actual world it would also be permissible on this view to pay for a military establishment and maybe some other accutrements of foreign policy to defend lives and property against foreign attack. There are some theoretical problems with this view stemming on the one hand from the question of why children shouldn't be slaves (for which see Susan Okin's Justice, Gender, and the Family) and from whether it even makes sense to take property as primitive (for which see Thomas Nagel's The Myth of Ownership) but the strongest objection comes from what I think of as the repugnant conclusions named above, namely that poor children should simply be abandoned to get sick and die or stay totally uneducated if their parents can't pay for their educations. I doubt that many people would be willing to accept these conclusions and my purpose in bringing them up is to suggest that if you don't want to accept them then you have to not use the premise of an absolute right to property in arguments against taxation in general.

Other people call themselves libertarians even though they don't accept this libertarian premise. They just think that avoiding government regulation is, in general, a good thing. This is an empirical claim that needs to be defended (and attacked) on a case-by-case basis, but the thing to keep in mind here is that if you are a libertarian for empirical reasons then you can't just appeal to a right to property in arguing against liberal proposals to tax and spend, you need to actually show that they're a bad idea. I happen to think that libertarians are right that in many cases liberal proposals aimed at helping people will not, as a matter of fact, be helpful, but I hardly think this is plausible as an across-the-board proposition.

READING ANDREW SULLIVAN'S post on this Michael Kinsley column I'm once again struck by the sense that Sullivan hasn't really read the articles he's bashing. Kinsley, as I read him, wasn't telling the president to "punt" on Iraq as sullivan would have it, rather he was asking the president to lay his cards on the table. Lots of rightwingers out there now take it as axiomatic that Saddam must be removed lest he do something terrible, while many liberals seem to feel that war must be avoided at all cost lest dangerous instability result. I (and, I think, Kinsley) think they're both right — there are serious risks either way and those risks need to be evaluated. The public and the congress deserve a chance to evaluate those risks and we can't do it unless the president lays his cards on the table and explains what, exactly, the problem with Saddam is and what it is he's planning to do about it.

I'm not proposing, of course, that Bush release detailed (or even vague) war plans, but he should say whether he's thinking of an invasion or some kind of airstrikes/special forces/proxy army campaign and what the broad outlines of his vision for a post-Saddam Iraq are. After all, unless we're one of those (like Sullivan) who just has blind faith in President Bush I'm not really sure how we're supposed to support his Iraq policy when we don't even know what that policy is.

UPDATE: Jason Rylander has more good thoughts on this point.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

THE AMERICAN PROSPECT IS DOING an excellent job of leaving the bogus church-state issue aside and trying to raise some of the many legitimate reasons to worry about them. In my own eccentric view it's not really worth worrying so much about school quality. The key thing is not that everyone (or anyone, for that matter) get a good education — the key thing is that everyone get (roughly speaking) a fair shot at life. That means that school quality isn't the issue and school equality is. It's hard to say exactly how we could go about making bad schools better and it would probably be difficult to do and cost money to do it. A much easier way to start down the road of equalization would be to just make the best schools worse. We could ban private schools and try to establish some sort of funding maximum to prevent rich districts from using their money to hire away all the best teachers.

When I reflect on this conclusion, I must admit that it sounds a bit like a reductio ad absurdum of liberal egalitarianism, but when I look around all the other political theories seem to have worse problems (libertarianism, I take it, would say that poor kids just shouldn't get any education at all and conservatives seem to think that the role of schools is to brainwash kids into being religious) so I'm gonna just throw my repugnant conclusion out there.

OF COURSE, WE COULD ALSO LEARN a thing or two from the Saudi's about economic management. After all, things have been approving a lot over the years and Saudi's now constitute over 4% of the Saudi work force. But why do so few Saudis manage to get private sector jobs? Why, discrimination, of course:
On the contrary, young Saudis seeking employment argue that the recruitment practices of private sector employers have added to the existing constraints faced by them, while hunting for jobs in private companies. These employers have naturally tended toward the recruitment of foreign workers, whose qualifications, training, operating flexibility and wage demands more closely matched their own requirements and profitability, they said.
Crazy private sector employers, trying to choose workers based on their "qualifications," "training," "flexibility," and "wage demands" — what are they thinking?
REMEMBER HOW SAUDI ARABIA'S been spending millions of dollars funding schools to spread radical Islamism abroad while many of their own people live in poverty without jobs or real education? Well guess what kids, the good times are coming to America. That's right, our peace loving allies are raising money to build the Dar-us-Salam Center which "will seek to influence the US government’s social, local, national and international policies, besides striving for justice to Muslims."

Excellent, because if you ask me the one thing that could really make the United States a much better place would be for us to have social policies that were more like Saudi Arabia's. Take, for example, being stuck in traffic. Doesn't that suck? Wouldn't you be so much more happier if there were fewer cars on the road? Like only half as many? I think it's time to consider the Saudi approach and not let women drive at all! Also amusing is this:

On the Islamic side, the students benefit from Dr. Salah Alsawy, an Islamic scholar. Under his supervision, a fatwa line has been opened that enables Muslims to seek a fatwa by phone or e-mail.
I'm really, really, hoping that that's not the kind of fatwa where they come and kill you.
THE NATION REPORTS, WITH BATED BREATH, that George W. Bush is trying to fill the courts with rightwing judges. Shockingly, these rightwing judges plan to engage in all sorts of bad-judge behavior — undermining abortion rights, undermining civil rights, letting corporation run amok, etc. Somehow I and millions of other Gore voters (and millions of Bush voters, come to think of it) were able to anticipate this, but The Nation somehow managed to overlook it all and spend the 2000 campaign pimping for Ralph Nader.
THE NEW REPUBLIC CALLS BUSH'S BLUFF on corporate reform:
The president's calculation seems to be that as long as he has a plan, any plan, the public won't be able to tell the difference between real reform and sham reform. After all, it's worked for him before.
The good news is that you can't trick people into thinking the economy's performing well. You've either got a job or you don't. Your 401 (k) either is worth something or it's not. The problem is that many people may need to suffer a great deal to make the truth come out.
MAX SAWICKY JOINS THE CROWD denouncing the bogus concept of corporate responsibility. The idea that what's needed is for important and powerful people and actors to behave "responsibly" is very much in line with the House of Bush's ethic of noblesse oblige but it's not something for sensible people to believe in. A system of laws was created in this country designed to allow people to create limited-liability corporations for the purposes of making money. That system was created because — rightly — it was felt that we'd all be better off if it was possible for people to do such a thing. Those laws have been modified many times over the years to try and create a system that will have results we like better. The results we're getting with the current set of laws clearly aren't very good. Hence we need to once again change the laws it's simply illegitimate to make changing the people the goal of public policy. Given perfect people any system would work.

I actually think a similar problem — too much focus on getting important people to act better and too little on building systems in which it doesn't matter whether or not bad people exist in the world — is underlying the administration's increasingly troubled foreign policy, but I'm having trouble expressing myself at this point.

OXBLOG IS BACK and correctly noting that our farm policy has gotten so bad that the Europeans are giving us shit about it and they're totally right.
AS WE ALL KNOW, EVERYONE IN WASHINGTON agrees that it's important that the security of our "homeland" not be compromised by petty turf-protecting desires. Of course, the good people on the House Transportation Committee are smart enough to see that their turf is the exception and that the mission of the Coast Guard is so vital to the American transportation system (what would I do if I couldn't take the steamboat to Boston? what's that you say, there are cars, buses, trains, and planes?) that removing it from their august jurisdiction would be a terrible thing to do. Good work kids. Good work.
JUST VISITED WIN FITZPATRICK'S SITE for the first time and his webcounter told me I was visitor number 2. He definitely deserves better than that — check it out.
ROBERT MUSIL HAS A GOOD FOLLOW-UP to an earlier post of mine on the status of illegitimate governments that does a nice job of balancing the competing concerns raised by the problem. My one quibble would be that Musil seems to focus too much on the consequences of individuals actions and not enough on the potential long-term benefits of establishing a system of rules. There are many cases where intervention by a powerful country like the US could bring great benefits to the population of a small country with a repressive government at relatively low cost to the population of either country. Doing so, however, would tend to make it harder in the future to establish a system of rules that could constrain bad regimes that could only be constrained by force at great cost. I'm thinking primarily here of China, against which, I take it, no one thinks we should go fight a war and which is ruled by a regime which would not, I think, be above throwing its weight around regionally were the system of national sovereignty to be undermined. On the other hand, this may not be a huge worry given that China's weaker neighbors to the southeast aren't really that fantastic either.

Nevertheless, I do tend to worry that as we seek ways to cope with the immediate threat of Islamic extremism we may wind up taking our collective eyes off the ball with regard to the much more serious long-term problem of containing Chinese power unless and until a less murderous regime is running things in Beijing. After all, no matter what Saddam may be cooking up in his weapons labs we always could win a war against Iraq fairly easily while a US-China confrontation would be a horrific bloodbath.

INSTAPUNDIT REACTS WITH PLEASANT SURPRISE that Massachusetts is going squishy on gun control but it's important to keep in mind here that despite my school-year home's reputation for ultraliberalism, is not really very far left on guns due in no small part to the fact that major gun manufacturers like Smith & Wesson are actually based in Massachusetts.
DAN SAVAGE, REGULAR AUTHOR OF THE better-than-anything-else "savage love" sex advice column has a new piece out about the left-wing case for war. I'm a bit nostalgic for those good old days of September, October, and November when I got to have that argument constantly, but as Savage reminds us the possibility of war with Iraq will once again raise the question of whether the left will counter Bush's policies with constructive criticism and support for a deeper and more meaningful commitment to peacekeeping and reconstruction than we've seen in Afghanistan or else nothing more than a return to inapplicable pacifist slogans.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

MICHAEL KINSLEY SAYS FROM THE LEFT something I've also been hearing from the more thoughtful sectors of the right, we need a real debate on Iraq. I'm open to the idea of a war if we had a reasonable plan for life after Saddam and some kind of theory as to why an invasion wouldn't just result in a massive chemical weapons attack on Israel. Maybe these problems are solvable. Maybe the kids down in the Pentagon already have the solutions. But then again maybe not. It's time for the administration to start putting up or shutting up on this.
THOSE ON THE LEFT WHO THINK of the DLC as nothing but a bunch of sellouts should be glad to see them throwing some punches at the White House for their record of lies, drift, and obstructionism:
We can understand why the White House is trying to allay the general impression that the Administration is in a rudderless, reactive, and defensive posture on a wide range of foreign and domestic policy issues. But a case-by-case review of the legislation the President complained about in his press conference shows he should look at his own party -- and in some cases, just look in the mirror -- for the real obstructionists in Washington.
The nice thing about being out of power is that it lets all sorts of us left-of-Bush folk come together and agree that this is one hell of a bad president we've got ourselves.
JULIE HILDERN EXPLAINS THE INS AND OUTS of your precious right to remain silent (well, Bernie Ebbers' right to remain silent, really), reminding me of a discussion I had with a friend a few days ago — why do you have a right to remain silent? Because it's in the constitution, of course, but why is it there? The other rights given to defendants serve either to protect innocent people from being railroaded (right to an attorney, right to jury trial, right to cross examine witnesses) or from being subject to unwarranted police harrassment (search and seizure) but it seems like the right to avoid self-incrimination, by definition, only protects the guilty and why would we want to be doing that?
HEY SALON! GET SOME PERMALINKS for Joe Conason. Also: "daily journal" — give me a break, it's a blog.
THE FBI MAY NOT KNOW SHIT about preventing terrorist attacks, but at least you can be sure that when Osama blows up your kids they'll have gone to their grave without ever having been photographed naked. Has anyone considered whether we ought to just abolish the FBI and hand the cash over to localities so they can hire real policemen?
MARK POYSER'S FANTASTIC scandalgram really brings the whole web of wacky corporate behavior together. Take a look and be afraid.
TED BARLOW has returned — hurrah!
BURIED WAY DOWN IN THIS ERIC ALTERMAN post is my favorite Bushism yet:
The problem with the French is that they don't have a word for entrepreneur
Somehow I don't think Europeans are going to stop looking on Americans as arrogant and ill-informed any time soon. Can you imagine Jacques Chirac explaining that the problem with America is that we don't have a word for le hot-dog? I can't.
GO READ BRIAN LINSE on the death of baseball. I've been waiting for this to happen all my life — viva soccer or, as they say, football.
PEOPLE TAKING THE DEMOCRATS TO TASK for trying to keep civil service protections (rules that make it hard to fire government employees) are, I think, forgetting the reasons why those protectiosn were put in place. Of course, one of the effects of civil service rules is that it's hard to fire government employees and so government employees (and their unions) like the rules, and because the unions like the rules the Democrats like them too. All those self-interested reasons notwithstanding, there's actually a perfectly good reason those rules were put in place — to prevent presidents from using the federal payroll as a patronage mill. If government bosses had the sort of discretionary authority to fire their subordinates that exists in the private sector, there'd be nothing to stop each incoming administration from perpetrating a massive wave of firings and then handing out jobs to loyal supports or, more likely, subcontracting the patronage to powerful local political bosses. That's how the government was run before the civil service rules were adopted and people didn't like it.

Now there's a case to be made that the whole anti-patronage, anti-machine, reformist crusade was a bad idea and that the machines and the patronage system were a powerful method of integrating people into our common political culture, but there's also a case to be made that running the government essentially on the principle of large-scale corruption would be a bad idea. At the end of the day, this debate about the basic structure of our political system is a lot more important than worrying what the most efficient way to organize the Homeland Security Department is.

SULAIMAN ABU GAITH, Osama's al-Qaeda's every-lovable spokesman, is making new threats against the United States. I don't put a lot of stock in these kind of threats and it seems quite unlikely to me that any really serious damage to the US could be done, but I think that our side really needs to respond to these threats with a clear statement that even if incredibly deadly attacks are succesfully launched against us that that still wouldn't produce any changes in US policy to make us more accommodating to al-Qaeda's goals. I get the feeling that all the talk around here of homeland defense is creating an atmosphere where it seems like we'll be admitting failure (and thus possibly contemplating surrender) if our defenses prove to be imperfect.
JULIE HILDEN THINKS THAT BY examining judicial rulings since Bush v. Gore, one can see that the decision was motivated by principle and not, as all reasonable people know, determined by the judges' political affiliations. I smell a fallacy here — if the only reason the five conservative judges came to hold these "principles" in the first place was because they provided a rationalization for throwing the election to Bush, then the fact that they've held to those same principles in one later case really how no relevance at all to the question of why everyone voted the way they did back in winter 2000.
LURKING IN THE DARK RECESSES OF THE CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT are a few hardy souls who think it's worth their time to try and campaign to put Ronal Reagan on the dime. I still cringe every time I hear the airport refered to as "Ronald Reagan National Airport."
JOSH MARSHALL'S GOT A GOOD ONE on why neither party wants to see Louis Freeh hang for all the many, many, many FBI screw-ups leading up to 9/11. The piece is worth reading not just because of the Freeh issue, but because I fear a similar dynamic exists with regard to white collar corporate crime, and it'd be a real shame to see all these scumbags get away scot free. That's why I think in 2004 the Democrats are going to need a nominee from outside the beltway who can plausibly say that he had nothing whatsoever to do with formulating account rules or anything else.
MORE BAD NEWS FOR IRAQ INVASION PLANS: Jordan doesn't want to help. I don't think that regional opposition (especially from monarchs) necessarily means we shouldn't do this thing, but aren't we going to need to find someone who will vocally support us when the time comes?

On a related point, Joe Biden isn't my favorite Senator, but he's absolutely right to be scheduling hearings on Iraq policy. I know folks in the blogosphere enjoy speculating about what we may or may not be doing but, frankly, the American people have a right to know what our Iraq policy is at least in the broad outlines.

ROBERT SAMUELSON COMES OUT in favor of gridlock arguing that it's the best way for the country to prevent the irresistable political pressure for a prescription drug benefit for the elderly from causing us to get our priorities all out of whack. I sort of agree with this — certainly giving more money to the old is nowhere near the top of my priority list. Things being what they are, though, I can't help but feel that any money not going to health care for the elderly is just going to go to more tax cuts or farm subsidies or some other nonsense. I'd take more spending on schools or children's health care over more welfare for geezers, but I just don't think it's going to happen, so I say let the old folks get their medicine.
IN HIS BIG SPEECH Bush said, among other things, that:
In the long run, there's no capitalism without conscience. There is no wealth without character.
This is absolutely absurd. The whole merit of the capitalist system (and of good social systems in general) is that they work without requiring the population to consist entirely or even largely of good people. If one could count on people to have lots and lots of character and conscience, we could just go adopt some kind of anarcho-socialist system with no laws defending the right to life, property, or anything else. People would take what they needed and contribute what they could. The real world, of course, is nothing like this, so we've constructed a system of laws whose purpose is supposed to be to ensure that various individuals each pursuing their own self-interest wind up generating lots of good results for people as a whole. If it turns out that self-interested people are doing socially destructive things (killing each other, defrauding investors, whatever) what that goes to show is that we need to alter the rules of the game.

There's nothing wrong with CEOs being greedy. Indeed, if CEO weren't greedy its hard to see how free-market economics could work at all. If greedy CEOs knew, however, that trying to perpetrate massive fraud would wind up landing them in jail and losing all their money, then greedy CEOs wouldn't perpetrate massive frauds. Thinking that we can solve social problems by asking people to just become more moral is the absolute worst kind of self-deception, and if that's really going to be our policy then this country's going to be in a lot of trouble.

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

SULLY WATCH: Big Andy denounces Nick Kristof's alleged "moral equivalence" in an intemperate diatribe. Kristof wrote a very reasonable column saying that anti-Muslim bias is a bad thing, and that in addition to being bad it's counterproductive because it makes it harder for us to make friends and influence people in the Islamic world. Sullivan responds to this by accusing Kristof of having argued that making bigoted comments is morally equivalent to Osama-style mass murder. That, indeed, would be a foolish thing to say, which is exactly why Kristof said nothing of the sort.
CHRIS PATTEN WONDERS why America fears the ICC. I suspect the answer has more than a little to do with the fact that people like Chris Patten are the driving force behind it. Personally, I support the ICC, I'm a bit skeptical but I think we ought to give it a chance and pull out later if it turns out to be some kind of disaster. Nevertheless, while Europeans like to attribute their anti-American feelings to an American penchant for unilateralism, I suspect most Americans feel that their penchant for unilateralism has been created by a European knee-jerk hostility to American actions, and I don't think Chris Patten is going to be able to talk skeptics out of their position.
KHALIL SHIKAKI LAYS OUT WHAT NEITHER THE BUSH administration nor the Sharon government nor the Arafat entity have so far — an actual plan for Palestinian governance. He says that a parliamentary system would force the various factions to work together in constructive ways and therefore be a force for moderation. I'm not 100% convinced, but the plan he outlines may be the last best hope we have to reach an actual solution to this terrible situation. Nevertheless, I'm not very optimistic.
JONAH GOLDBERG'S ATTACK ON STANLEY FISH doesn't really have the same attitude as I would to the issue, but does identify the right complaint against postmodernism — not the theory itself, but the many shoddy practitioners of bowlderized variants thereof. As I said, I wouldn't heap quite so much blame on Fish himself, but it is unfortunate that the serious people within the movement (Fish, Rorty, etc.) haven't done nearly as good a job as they could have at policing their followers and trying to correct some of the excesses done in postmodernism's name.
EL PRESIDENTE BUSH JUST ASSURED THE American people in a press conference that there was no "malfeance" in his Harken Energy trading. Another smirking gopher malapropism or a Clintonesque non-denial? Only time will tell. Incidentally, what sort of drugs are in the West Wing water supply that they let this guy speak off the cuff like that? They'd better bring Karen Hughes back fast.

Monday, July 08, 2002

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST: Jeff Jarvis joins the herd of bloggers on hiatus.
I'M STILL A "FLAPPY BIRD" in the latest blogosphere ecosystem rankings but apparently I'm moving up with 46 links. Someday soon I may be an adorable little rodent.
ANOTHER WORTHY GROUP JOINS THE BURGEONING global anti-Israeli coalition. These guys are so far out there I won't even ask the blogosphere right for a denunciation. Suffice it to say, though, that this kind of American nutjob frightens me a lot more than the leftist college professor-type since one can easily imagine these people putting their money where there mouths are and actually blowing some people up from time to time instead of just saying silly things.

Link via Atrios.

BRIAN LINSE HAS THE EXPLANATION for that unfortunate incident involving the InstaHouse and the lighting bolt.
BAM! JOSH GREEN'S WASHINGTON MONTHLY article gives you an inside peek at the really scandal-plagued administration (hint: it doesn't involve Bill Clinton) all through the lens of laughably corrupt Army Secretary Thomas White.
Indeed, Bush, Cheney, and White are all part of a culture of "crony capitalism" whose resurgence has been quietly accepted in Washington, a culture in which a stint in the private sector is valued mostly as a ticket-punching exercise that allows one to get rich, ride out the time between government jobs, and demonstrate that one really isn't a creature of Washington. To dump White would risk raising questions about this entire way of life.
Greed can be a good thing, but only when a system of laws exists to channel greed in socially productive ways. When the ethic of greed takes over the lawmaking and law-enforcing sectors of society, then disaster results.
THE TIMES SAYS THAT THE KURDS aren't totally psyched about plans to invade Iraq which is unfortunate, since whether or not they'd really be indispensible allies in that fight, they're certainly the obvious ones. This sort of thing, I think, it's important for us to demonstrate a clear and substantial commitment to making things work in Afghanistan by shelling out for a major peacekeeping and reconstruction effort. Proposals to go after Iraq are laying down the precedent for a new paradigm in international relations wherein horrible regimes like Saddam's will no longer be tolerated. Engaging in campaigns like that, however, will require the support of the local popultion (at least from a PR perspective) and, in particular, the support of especially oppressed groups like the Kurds. People are only going to welcome US airstrikes (which will, after all, inadvertantly kill some of them and blow up a bunch of their stuff), however, if they're confident that they won't be abandonned in the aftermath. Our behavior thus far, frankly, doesn't give anyone much reason to trust us.

Sunday, July 07, 2002

WAIT A MINUTE — IS IT true? You can put em dashes on the web? There ought to be a guide to special characters or something somewhere. But wait — there is.
VIA PUNDITWATCH WE GET TO SEE what conservatives really think about senior citizens and prescription drugs:
Bob Novak: This debate has not moved an inch in three years, and the problem is that all this whining by senior citizens because they want to go out to Wendy's and they want to go out to the dog track, and if they saved their money and bought some drugs, most of them can afford it.
Kate O’Bierne: Two thirds of the elderly, of course, do have prescription drug coverage. And the typical senior citizen spends $800 a year. A small minority have trouble paying for drugs, and now if they have to choose between buying drugs and food, it'd be a lot cheaper to provide food for them, and then we won't run the risk of introducing price controls on pharmaceuticals and cripple the miracle industry that is the American drug industry.
Wouldn't it be nice if actual rightwing politicians would come out and say what their pundit-stand-ins do --- that conservatives don't think senior citizens should be helped to afford prescription drugs? Then we could have an honest debate about the proper role of government in providing for the citizenry. A debate that the left would win, hands down. Instead the Republicans will just go on pushing their scam plan and try to confuse people into thinking that everyone agrees on this issue.
AS WE ALL KNOW, OF COURSE, unlike Islam, Christianity is a religion of peace, to wit:
Protestant hard-liners battled riot police Sunday after being barred from parading through the main Catholic section of Portadown, an annual confrontation that often triggers sectarian violence across Northern Ireland.
INTERESTING GINGER STAMPLEY POST on the visa program that saved Hadayat from deportation. All-in-all it seems to me that our various visa programs focus too heavily on formal criteria (nation of origin, family status, lottery numbers, etc.) and too little on more "subjective" factors like "is this the kind of guy we want living in our country."

We all know that many, many, many more people want to come to the United States in any given year than we're prepared to let in, so why don't we put some effort into making sure that the people we do wind up letting in are people who don't have virulently anti-American views?

MATT WELCH'S EXCELLENT COLUMN ON Bush losing the benefit of the doubt seems a bit oddly blogger-centric to me, quoting Kaus, Reynolds, and Volokh (and no one else) while identifying them as "Slate.com columnist," "FoxNews.com clomunist," and "UCLA law professor" respectively. Those things are all perfectly accurate descriptions, but still.... Could this be the dawning of a new secret blogger conspiracy?
THE WASHINGTON POST NOTES WHAT SHOULD BE OBVIOUS --- that assault is wrong even when the victim is a maid. The federal government, however, as any self-respecting blogophile will already know, takes a different position when the perpetrator is a Saudi Princess in which case a slap on the wrist will suffice for punishment.
DAVID BRODER TAKES ON THE GREAT injustice dividing suburb from city where wealthy outlying regions use municipal boundary lines to avoid needing to contribute to solving the problems of inner cities. He's right about this, I think, but the problem with his analysis is that there's basically nothing one can do about it. You're never going to sell a bunch of suburbanites on the idea that they ought to be incorporated into a neighboring city on the grounds that that city wants to take their property-tax revenue and go spend it on services they won't receive. Paul Grogan makes the case in his excellent Comeback Cities that this sort of "metropolitan" thinking is a dangerous delusion for urban advocates since it tends to distract attention from all the things that cities can do without the assistance of their suburban neighbors. Perhaps if everyone took Grogan's advice and did the best they could with the resources they actually do have that would create a dynamic where broder metropolitanism could be seen as a true partnership between city and suburb (there are, after all, many common interests that run throughout a region) and then this sort of thing could get off the ground.