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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Media and War

War Policy, Public Support, and the Media by William M. Darley is another of the papers that Vodkapundit recommended from Parameters. It makes a convincing case that media portrayal of warfare has much less effect than conventional wisdom would suggest and the firm leadership and decisive action are far more influential on public opinion. According to this paper, the media effect is more likely to have an effect on the leadership, causing them to express doubt and act in a wishy washy manner than it is to directly effect public opinion. This is quite plausible. You could probably boil the conclusion of the paper down to 'nothing succeeds like success.' Based upon this paper at least, George Bush's firm leadership and never expressing any doubt is the correct way to maintain public support for the war. He could probably do better at expressing clear objectives however. This is where a 'timetable' could be useful with specific goals to be accomplished at specific times. This worked very well for the Iraqi election in January of course. On the second factor, tangible decisive action the Iraq war is obviously going less well. However, it should be noted that it is quite possible to marry the relatively high levels of support for us staying in Iraq with the moderate support of the Presidents actions as a call by many for more activity and a harder push rather than withdrawal. Once again, specific goals and timetables would be quite useful. I have assumed, as have many, that slant in press coverage could dramatically effect the course of a war. Certainly this paper has convince me that in conventional arenas, body counts, basic justification for the war, etc. The effect of the press is probably minor. However, I am not sure that that conclusion applies as strongly to press coverage that deals with the moral nature of America, and the American Soldiers themselves. Rightly or wrongly it seems that the Abu Ghraib incidents, and other similar events seem to have eroded confidence in our moral nature itself, and thus confidence in the war. The paper discusses the effects of coverage of things like the Tet offensive in Vietnam, but not things like the My Lia massacre. The last paper that Vodkapundit recommended: Preemption and the Evolution of America'’s Strategic Defense is a very deep andthoughtfull analysis of the entire concept of preventive war. I have read it, and been thinking on it greatly. It seems to require an in depth analysis, and perhaps reworking of the entire just war concept to deal with adequately. I have a post on that rumbling around the back of my head, but I am not sure I am up to the task.

Is worse always worse?

David Ignatius has written an interesting op-ed on what he calls Our Worsening Terrorism Problem.:

Here's where the fundamental contradiction in Bush's strategy becomes clear. If Iraq has shown anything, it is that there's no easy equation between democratic government and success in containing terrorism. In the short run, prying the lid off a tightly controlled society such as Iraq may actually make the terrorism problem worse. The cruel instruments of repression are gone, while the constraints of an orderly, law-abiding, democratic society are not yet present. Bush's answer is that democracy, over time, will bring stability to the Middle East and contain the terrorism problem. I agree, but given the stakes for the United States and the world, the administration must examine the short-run consequences of political change, which is that it might lead to more terrorism, not less. That's why the proper goal in these changing societies isn't simply democracy but the rule of law.
This has been a critique against the Iraq war from the beginning, and one that I always thought was valid. Certainly no one can argue that our invasion of Iraq did inspire anti-American passions across the Arab world, and certainly terrorists are flocking to Iraq. I have always viewed this as sort of analogues to a vaccination program, you have to make things worse in the short term to develop immunity in the long term. There are non trivial benefits that have already manifest themselves in the war in Iraq. First off, because the Jihadist campaign has so often purposefully caused Iraq deaths, there is good evidence that the romance and heroism factor of Jihadists is fading in the minds of ordinary Iraqis. Certainly during the period that the Jihadists effectively ruled Fallujah there true nature was pretty manifest. The reported Red on Red actions are also a sign of growing dissolutionment with the Jihadists. There is reason to hope that this attitude will spread to other Arab and Muslim nations as well. This is a direct benefit of heating up the conflict. Secondly, while foreign Jihadists are receiving hardening and combat training in Iraq, the Iraqi armed forces are also receiving a great deal of training and combat experience in combating terrorists and insurgents. The long term benefits of an experienced and hardened Arab counter-terrorist force sponsored by a Democracy cannot be under estimated. While autocratic Arab regimes have been able to fairly successfully control domestic terrorism, it does appear in many cases they have done so by at least tacitly supporting non-domestic terrorism. A deal with the devil if you will. Certainly the best examples of this are Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan, but most of the Arab nations seems to do this to a greater or lesser degree. This tactic while it may well prove beneficial to those countries, represents a clear and continuing danger for us. On a larger scale, it is important to consider what sort of conflict we most desire, a hot, active struggle with active enemies or a slow, punctuated shadow war with enemies how only rarely, if spectacularly manifest themselves. It seems clear to me that our military and national character are far more suited to the former. Some would argue that this last isn't an either-or proposition though. That the hot active struggle will, upon our victory, morph into the slow shadow war. There is a certain degree of truth to that. If however, during the course of the active struggle we can also change the nature of Arab regimes that sponsor, encourage, or simply exacerbate terrorism, primarily through promoting political and economic freedom in autocratic nations, I am convinced that the shadow war will be much smaller and less dangerous.

We're not raising kids to be war heroes

James P. Pinkerton writes in Newsday about decreasing tolerance in the U.S. for casualties.:

During the Civil War, Union forces lost 360,000 men, out of a population of 22 million. Which is to say, almost 2 percent of the entire Northern population was killed in four years. Yet President Abraham Lincoln hung on to his support and was re-elected by a landslide in 1864. Of course, public opinion polling and television didn't exist back then. But there's another factor, too: big families. In 1860, more than half the population of the U.S. was under 19. It's a cold fact that if there are a lot of kids around the household, it's easier to give some over to war. But the long-term trend toward smaller families has undercut this demographic 'surplus.' That's the underlying reason Americans did not 'hold firm' in Vietnam, and why they do not seem to be holding firm in Iraq. Then and now, American forces were not in danger of losing on the battlefront. But the home front was, and is, a different story. The first Americans were killed fighting in Vietnam in 1957. By the summer of 1965, total KIAs in Vietnam reached the same level that they are in Iraq today. Yet four decades ago, support for the war stayed stronger longer. A majority of Americans didn't say Vietnam wasn't worth fighting for until August 1968, by which time some 30,000 American soldiers had been killed. So while Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam War was one-hundredth as costly as Lincoln's Civil War, on a relative basis - the 36th president, unlike the 16th president, was thwarted in his bid for re-election. The percentage of children in the country was a key factor in these shifting war-presidency fortunes. By 1965, the share of under-19-year-olds had fallen sharply, to 37 percent. So in 'Nam, each combat fatality - magnified, of course, by the media - was felt more strongly. Today, the under-19 percentage is down to 27. Families that once had five or six kids now have a couple at most. Poll numbers on Iraq - and plummeting enlistment rates - show the impact of demography on the polity. These long-term trends, and their political implications, were evident to one farsighted thinker more than a decade ago. In 1994, Edward Luttwak, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., surveyed the U.S. experience in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia and concluded, in a Foreign Affairs article, that America had entered its 'post-heroic' era, in which the public would have a permanently low tolerance for casualties.
I am not sure his analysis is correct as to the cause here. It seems reasonable to me that at least a part, if not most of this decreasing tolerance for casualties is not because we have smaller families, but because we have fewer non-war related deaths. Childhood and young adult death is quite rare now, especially if one looks at 'acts of God' as opposed to things like car wrecks where the victim may often be at fault. Since we are less accustomed to youthful death now, death in war seems proportionately worse. This is also of course magnified by mass media and our becoming accustomed to feeling everyone else's pain (how else does one explain the massive coverage of a single missing person.) However, I think there may be a counter effect here. As our lives have become softer, we have also embraced finding ways to challenge, and even threaten ourselves. Extreme sports are one manifestation of this. Based on some of the accounts in Generation Kill for many the military offers this same sort of thrill and adventure. Also based upon that book, these soldiers are perhaps the deadliest ever produced. There has long been speculation on whether the effect of lifespan increases will promote risk taking or excessive caution. I think that the risk taking option is more likely as there is a certain need to be exposed to danger at times to feel alive. How these factors will finally play out in this, and future wars, will be interesting.

About time

Yahoo! News:

After nearly a decade of court battles, scientists plan to begin studying the 9,300-year-old skeleton known as Kennewick Man next week. A team of scientists plans to examine the bones at the University of Washington's Burke Museum in Seattle beginning July 6, according to their attorney, Alan Schneider. Four Northwest Indian tribes had opposed the study, claiming the skeleton could be an ancestor who should be buried. The Interior Department and the Army Corps of Engineers had sided with the tribes. But a federal judge in Portland, backed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled that the researchers could study the bones to determine how the man died and to find clues to prehistoric life in North America.
The entire controversy over this was just plain stupid. 10,000 years is enough time to dilute any claims of kinship. I find it surprising that after a couple of weeks at being agast as Supreme Court decisions, I am applauding one by the 9th circut. (via The Anchoress)

Vodkapundit - All the News That's Fit to Drink

Vodkapundit lists The Five Greatest Concept Albums Ever, Period. I am not sure I agree with all his choices, but this one I definetely endorse:

The Wall Pink Floyd's 1979 magnum opus needs no introduction. If you're like me, however, and you define rock'n'roll by loudness and youthful defiance, then this two-disc collection is the loudest, most unrelenting rejection of adulthood ever recorded. Other than that, there's nothing left to say. Either you agree with my last pick, and you've been nodding your head ever since reading 'The Wall' in boldface up above, or you're too old and too deaf to care. Either way, that was the Floyd's point.
I will forever hate Bill at Reason's Edge for having seen Pink Floyd perform The Wall at Madison Square Gardens. Bastard.

Loving America

This sure makes me feel patriotic (via Instapundit)

Tom Cruise and mental health

Runing for the Right points us at this The San Diego Union-Tribune article defending Tom Cruise and his statements about antidepresants:

Instead, Cruise kicked off a debate over a subject that a lot of people don't feel comfortable discussing: whether Americans are too quick to turn to prescription drugs and whether their doctors are too quick to prescribe them. Cruise zeroed in on 'drugging children' with Ritalin, which is supposed to treat hyperactivity or attention deficit disorder. That's a hugely important discussion, and it shouldn't matter who gets the ball rolling. Even if the push comes from a – gasp – celebrity, and one who has links to – gasp – Scientology. So far the public isn't buying it. According to an online poll by MSNBC, 69 percent of viewers said Cruise was 'just plain wrong' on the role of doctors and the use of drugs to alleviate mental distress. Those people are naive. My friends who are doctors tell me that they are constantly being lobbied by drug companies, trying to convince them to prescribe some of this and more of that.
I am conflicted on this issue. I strongly believe that their are people who at various points absolutely need medicines to regain any measure of control. Our brains are influenced by chemistry and there are points at which no amount of willpower or other things can 'fix' the problem without some chemical intervention. I am concerned though that we are too quick to rely on this method, especially with children. Psychiatry and brain chemistry are still very poorly understood. Cruise is also correct that exercise can be a powerful tool in combating mental illness. It may not be a coincidence that we are seeing a lot of ADHD and a lot of obeisity in children at the same time.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Dealing with Terrorist Prisoners

I finished reading Rescuing the Law of War: A Way Forward in an Era of Global Terrorism by Michael H. Hoffman, one of the articles I mentioned in this post. It is on whether we should consider captured terrorists Prisoners of War or judge them by the civil justice system. Not surprisingly, the answer is neither. It goes into some depth on the history and origin of laws of war and why non state actors engaging in international warfare need to be treated differently than either traditional intra-state war or civil war, the only two types of warfare the Geneva Convention deals with. It also explains convincingly why the civil justice system is inadequate to this task. Hoffman proposes a third way, looking at customary Law of War precedents and establishing a legal framework based upon them. Here is Hoffman's plan:

The following two principles offer a way forward. Terrorist warfare represents a form of unlawful belligerency thatat sovereign states can meet by adapting customary rules of war. Not all warfare is necessarily covered by the Geneva Conventions, and where it isn'’t, the customary law of war should apply. The 9/11 Commission observed that such rules can form the basis for an operational response to terrorism. The executive branch needs to establish clear, firm guidelines for the application of the customary rules of war in operations against unlawful belligerents. Legal issues will arise that haven’t been foreseen, but that’s inherent to all military operations and they will have to be addressed as they arise. There is little time, however, to build a complete customary law-of-war framework ad hoc, and relying upon the judicial branch to sort out uncertainties in the rules of war is not an option. The customary laws of war, when adapted for conflict with unlawful belligerents, must always incorporate rules of humanitarian restraint. Any set of customary rules of war adapted for this purpose will have to include rules for humanitarian protection of civilians and military captives. There simply is no getting around this. While certain rules found in the Geneva Conventions may not be appropriate or obligatory when dealing with terrorist organizations (e.g., the rule limiting the scope of questions that prisoners of war are obligated to answer) there are still lines that can't be crossed.
This is comfortingly similar to things I have said before, although far more detailed and thought out than my meager offerings. It must be stressed, that a good portion of the problem, as Hoffman explains, comes from a failure of the Executive and Legislative branches to assert a clear and reasonable set of rules and standards governing non-state international war. In this vacuum, the Judiciary has asserted itself out of necessity.

The End of the Rainbow - New York Times

Tom Friedman writes in The New York Times about how Ireland achieved economic success:

And change Ireland did. In a quite unusual development, the government, the main trade unions, farmers and industrialists came together and agreed on a program of fiscal austerity, slashing corporate taxes to 12.5 percent, far below the rest of Europe, moderating wages and prices, and aggressively courting foreign investment. In 1996, Ireland made college education basically free, creating an even more educated work force. The results have been phenomenal. Today, 9 out of 10 of the world's top pharmaceutical companies have operations here, as do 16 of the top 20 medical device companies and 7 out of the top 10 software designers. Last year, Ireland got more foreign direct investment from America than from China. And overall government tax receipts are way up. ... Ireland's advice is very simple: Make high school and college education free; make your corporate taxes low, simple and transparent; actively seek out global companies; open your economy to competition; speak English; keep your fiscal house in order; and build a consensus around the whole package with labor and management - then hang in there, because there will be bumps in the road - and you, too, can become one of the richest countries in Europe. 'It wasn't a miracle, we didn't find gold,' said Mary Harney. 'It was the right domestic policies and embracing globalization.'
Sounds like a pretty good prescription to me.

Misinformation about Social Security

Victor at The Dead Parrot Society provides some interesting evidence that many people don't understand how social security works, including those who are conducting polls on public understanding of how social security works. Having worked for a survey data collection company in the past, I can testify that polling organizations often do not have a very good understanding of the material they are constructing polls about, and that spin is often much more important than substance to them.

Heavy Reading

Vodkapundit points us at 3 articles from Parameters, the quarterly publication of the US Army War College. I haven't yet read any of them yet, but I certainly plan to.

India and U.S. military agreement

International Herald Tribune:

A 10-year military agreement just signed by the defense secretaries of the United States and India is intended to provide for numerous advances in the relationship, including joint weapons production, greater sharing of technology and intelligence as well as an increased trade in arms. A statement signed by India's defense minister, Pranab Mukherjee, and the U.S. defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, in Washington on Tuesday night said that the United States and India had 'entered a new era' and declared that the two countries' defense relationship had advanced to 'unprecedented levels of cooperation.'
While this will probably have some usefulness in the War on Terror, the main point of this is China. I know there are some who think that military confrontation with China is impossible because our economies are too heavily entangled and any military conflict would make us both losers. A very similar argument was bandied about before WWI in Europe. Yes, both nations would lose if a military conflict happened, but that certainly does not mean that there is no danger of war.

Bush's speech

The Political Teen has the video. There was of course nothing new in the speech. It needed to be said again though. At times Bush appeared almost frustrated about having to explain all of this again, and I simpathize with that. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that a deadline for leaving Iraq is a very bad idea (some Senators seem to have a tough time with this concept though). It is clear to everyone who is paying attention that we are making progress. And it should be fully clear, that whether or not Iraq was a key battle in the war on terror when we invaded (and I think it was) it is a key battlefield now, and failure there is not an option. The most important thing Bush said was that we won't give up on his watch. It was for this reason that I supported him so strongly for President in the last election.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Volokh Conspiracy - -

David Post of the The Volokh Conspiracy explains why the Grokster decision is neither terribly surprising or a huge win for the entertainment industry.

Batman Begins

I went an saw Batman Begins last night. I was very impressed. It was all in all the best Batman movie ever (and I say that with some regret, since I love Jack's performance in the first one.) I had serious trepidations about the movie before seeing it, especially the car which I didn't think was a proper Batmobile. I still feel that way to a small degree, but the car 'fit' in well with the movie and seemed right. It seemed for more like that Batmobile in the movie than it did in the stills or the previews that I saw. Christian Bale was a great Batman too.

10 Commandments Case

John Podoretz in the New York Post::

THOUGH it has always been the fantasy of Americans that their highest court was truly a Solomonic body, only the foolish and the sentimental hew to that romantic vision of the U.S. Supreme Court these days. After all, it would have been hard to imagine the intellectual reputation of the court sinking much lower than it did among liberals back in 2000, after the decision that ended the presidential recount in Florida — or among conservatives back in 1992, when it handed down the decision affirming the constitutionality of Roe vs. Wade. The court was accused of many offenses on these and other occasions — sophistry, cowardice, being power-hungry. Rarely, however, has it been accused of acting idiotically. But that's just what the court did yesterday in a pair of decisions involving the display of the Ten Commandments. Individually, the decisions are arguable. Taken together, they are nonsense on stilts. One says you cannot display the Ten Commandments on state property. The other says you can. That's the way it comes down. Period.
I agree that these decisions were a non decision, presumably designed to sheild the court from controversy rather than actually settle any debate. I am somewhat amenablele to either interpretation in this case. Clearly, the disestablishment clause aenvisioneded by the Founders would not have precluded displays of the 10 commandments. It is equally clear though, that the Founders pretty much had a blind spot in regards to non-Christian religions (Even the diests were certainly accepting of Christianity) and it iconsistentnt with the principles in the contitution to make sure that Jews, Hindus, Muslims, whatever feel as protected and secure in their rights as any of the various strains of Christianity. Further, the meta issue behind this strikes me as somewhat trivial. For the most part, despite protestations to the contrary, these displays are designed as ostentatious presentations of piety. Equally, those who claim offense at them are largely offended because they chose to be and are not seriously concerned about basic rights but simply concerned about not being offended. Both sides that havexacerbateded this debate should really grow up. We should expect, at minimum, clear rulings from the Supreme Court. I think they have often fallen short of that goal this session, but these two ruling are a spectacular failing in that regard. Update: Here is an interesting post on why Christians should not want Government displays of the 10 commandments. My theological knowledge of Christianity matches this assessment. (via Instapundit)

Monday, June 27, 2005

New Look

Justus for All has a new look, credit goes to Emily who did an absolutely mahvelous job.

What I See in Lincoln's Eyes

Barack Obama has written a wonderful tribute to Lincoln in TIME Magazine. This bit is my favorite:

What I marvel at, what gives me such hope, is that this man could overcome depression, self-doubt and the constraints of biography and not only act decisively but retain his humanity. Like a figure from the Old Testament, he wandered the earth, making mistakes, loving his family but causing them pain, despairing over the course of events, trying to divine God's will. He did not know how things would turn out, but he did his best.

More on Iran

This op-ed by Amir Taheri is well worth reading. Excerpt:

Ahmadinejad's victory means that Khamenehi, who has established himself as head of the most radical faction within the Khomeinist establishment, now controls all levers of power for the first time. He will now be able to put his own men in charge of all key government departments. Any idea of Western-style reforms to please the restive middle classes will be abandoned. The concentration of power in the hands of the radical faction will end more than two decades of divided government that has put many aspects of policy on autopilot as it were. Two years ago when King Abdullah II of Jordan telephoned Khatami to complain about Iran setting up terrorist cells in Amman, the Iranian president was able to claim that he knew nothing of it because he did not control all organs of government. The Europeans who have been negotiating with Tehran over the nuclear issue have also heard similar claims from Iranian counterparts. With Ahmadinejad in charge, however, such claims will no longer be credible because the camarilla headed by Khamenehi is now in complete control. Rafsanjani had promised the Chinese model - meaning the combination of a despotic political regime with capitalist economic policies. Ahmadinejad promises a North Korean model - that is to say a totalitarian system and a command economy.
Read the whole thing. I am still trying to come to grips with what the results of the Iranian election will mean for geo-political balance. There are a lot of factors to consider, some positive and some negative. I am leaning toward the opinion that, on balance, this will end up being a positive development as the conflict will clarify, which may have been a requirement for a solution all along.

Waiter Rant

This Waiter Rant post perfectly captures the glory, terror, and deep humanity of genuine Faith. It cannot be excerpted or summarized, go read it. I know that several of my readers, in some cases people who I deeply admire, feel very differently than I do about religious faith, finding it a silly superstition that is, on balance a blight on the world. Certainly, at times, it (or it's counterfeits) has been all of that. It is a lot more as well. As I have mentioned before, I am in awe of those who have the strength of character to embrace faith and submit willingly to a higher power. Some view this as a weakness in them, but it is not. (via The Anchoress)

Hostage hires bounty hunters


A hostage held alongside Australian Douglas Wood in Iraq has hired bounty hunters to track down his former captors, promising to eliminate them one by one. Swede Ulf Hjertstrom, who was held for several weeks with Mr Wood in Baghdad, was released by his kidnappers on May 30.
I am not sure what I think about this. I will shed no tears if the hostage takers are killed by bounty hunters. I certainly understand, and in a way, approve of, the desire by Hjertstrom to get these guys. On the other hand, I am not Libertarian enough to believe in private policing, and I wonder if this sort if activity won't increase, rather than decrease, the lawlessness in Iraq. (via Instapundit)

IRS hackable?

My Way News:

The Internal Revenue Service is investigating whether unauthorized people gained access to sensitive taxpayer and bank account information but has not yet exposed any privacy breaches, an official said on Friday. The U.S. tax agency -- whose databases include suspicious activity reports from banks about possible terrorist or criminal transactions -- launched the probe after the Government Accountability Office said in April that the IRS 'routinely permitted excessive access' to the computer files. The GAO team was able to tap into the data without authorization, and gleaned information such as bank account holders' names, social security numbers, transaction values, and any suspected terrorist activity. It said the data was at serious risk of disclosure, modification or destruction.
This is a very big deal. I expect we will be hearing more about this. (via TaxProf Blog and Instapundit)

File-Sharing Networks Can Be Held Liable, Court Rules

New York Times:

Internet file-sharing services will be held responsible if they intend for their customers to use software primarily to swap songs and movies illegally, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, rejecting warnings that the lawsuits will stunt growth of cool tech gadgets such as the next iPod. The unanimous decision sends the case back to lower court, which had ruled in favor of file-sharing services Grokster Ltd. and StreamCast Networks Inc. on the grounds that the companies couldn't be sued. The justices said there was enough evidence of unlawful intent for the case to go to trial. File-sharing services shouldn't get a free pass on bad behavior, justices said.
This is a decision I am not sure about. I have been reletively strong in my belief that illegal downloading and piracy are wrong, and that their should be penalties for that activitly. Certainly one can make a good case (and the lawyers for the entertainment industry did) that Grokster was focusing on the illegal activity and any legitmate use for their product was incidental to their revenue and marketing strategy. The 1984 Sony decision probably shouldn't be a 'get out of jail free card' if you can find any legitimate use for your product. One the other hand, I am concerned that the fear of stifling technology is a very real one. Anything can be used for an illegal purpose, and their are limits to what a complany can, and should, reasonably do to keep it's products from being attractive for those who wish to engage in such activities. There is also the very real fact that this decision will not substantially effect those who wish to engage in illegal activity, but may very substantially negatively impact those with legitimate uses for this sort of technology. In some ways, the fight behind the fight on the illegal downloading issue is even more compelling. I don't think we are getting a very good deal right now with our copywright laws, (here is some background on this issue). It is also unavoidably true that major media is probably less concerned with theft and piracy of their content then they are with in increase in competition from individuals who no longer require a powerful middle man for distribution and marketing. File sharing is a key componant that empower's individuals to compete with reletive equality with media corperations. No industry has ever welcomed more competition, and certainly record labels and movie studios are no exception to that. It seems to me that many of the propossed remedies for piracy are really about preventing legitmate competition. That doesn't mean we can ignore piracy however, or the very real fact that technology has dramatically changed the playing field and we do require new legislation to preserve the very real interests of everyone involved. Whenever technology has evolved new laws been created to balance the varies interests. It is concerning though that the media companies seem to have too much influence on government, and consumers and small scale producers not enough. I expect that may well change over time, as more people become producers, rather than just consumers of media and as the internet continues to evolve as a tool for political organization. Unfortunately, we may end up with a lot of bad law, that will be hard to undo, before that happens.

Privacy and Paparazzi

The Probligo has an interesting post up on the subject.

Alice Cooper on Iraq

I love Alice Cooper, one of my all time favorite artists. I don't particularly ascribe any weight to the political views of musicians, or other artists, and no matter what they think I will like their work based upon their work, not their political views. This is pretty cool anyway:ENOUGH ROPE with Andrew Denton - Transcript: Alice Cooper:

ANDREW DENTON: A lot of people in rock and roll, it's very fashionable to despise George W. Bush. That's not a view you subscribe to, is it? ALICE COOPER: Well, I think if you're in a war, you don't want a poodle in there, you want a pit bull. I don't think that you want a guy in there going, 'Gee, I don't know. Maybe. Could be.' I think you want a guy in there who's either going to win it or lose it. ANDREW DENTON: Are you referring to Iraq or the broader war against al-Qaeda? ALICE COOPER: I just think that that war's going to go on for a long time, whoever is the President. If it would have been Kerry, he would have been just as knee deep in it. I don't think Bush got us into that war. I think that started 9/11 and I think somebody had to take it from there. ANDREW DENTON: It doesn't worry you, the false connection that was made between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein, all that stuff that's been shown? ALICE COOPER: No. It doesn't bother me because I honestly think it's all connected.
(via Environmental Republican and Tim Blair)

US, EU sweat over Iran- The Times of India

The Times of India:

Iran’s newly-elected president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said on Saturday that he wanted to create a strong Islamic nation and issued a call for unity in his first comments after a landslide victory that left the country’s reformist movement virtually powerless and threatened to further complicate relations with the US. In an address on state radio, Ahmadinejad, a religious conservative, said he would work toward building 'an Islamic, exemplary, advanced and powerful nation,'and urged Iranians to 'forget all our rivalries and turn them into friendships.' Ahmadinejad’s rise to the presidency - the most important elected post in the country - reflected a desire by Iranian voters to change the economy and rid the nation of corruption. In his campaign, Ahmadinejad, who came from humble origins as a blacksmith’s son to become an engineer and in 2003 the mayor of Tehran, outlined a domestic agenda that can be described as Islamic socialism - protecting the core values of the Islamic revolution while using state resources to provide a financial safety net for all Iranian families, especially the poor. But the consolidation of power in the hands of conservatives could prove troublesome for US and the EU, which is scheduled to resume talks with Iran in July over its nuclear programme. While the election might not fundamentally change the country’s foreign policy positions, which are controlled by the clerics who have final say over all government actions, Ahmadinejad’s fierce nationalism could undermine any chance of a reconciliation with the US, as well as complicate the nuclear talks.
I was not expecting Ahmadinejad to win the Iranian election and it is difficult to say what this means. I certainly do not discount the possibilitity (likelihood in fact) that this election was rigged, but I am surprised that the Governing Council would want such a threatening figure in that office at this time. It is a setback for those of us who are hoping for peaceful reform in Iran. It will be interesting to watch how the Iranian reforms and the general populace of Iran decide to handle these events. It strikes me as being quite possible that the Governing Council may have overplayed their hand.

U.S. Talks With Iraqi Insurgents

Washington Post:

The U.S. military in Iraq has been holding face-to-face meetings with some Iraqi leaders of the insurgency there, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the U.S. commander in charge of Iraq confirmed yesterday. The talks are part of the military's revised campaign to drive a wedge between the Iraqi and foreign insurgents, according to U.S. commanders. Pentagon officials have acknowledged the new strategy but have not, until now, spoken openly about efforts to make contact with some Iraqi insurgent leaders. Asked to respond to a report that U.S. military representatives had meetings with several Sunni Iraqi insurgents twice in June, Rumsfeld told Fox News that 'there have probably been many more than that' and described the contacts as an effort to 'split people off and get some people to be supportive' of the political process in Iraq.
This is another sign that our campaign in Iraq is going well, despite the bad news that we often hear and the negative spin that is placed on even positive news. We are winning in Iraq. That doesn't mean that the violence is going to end, it will probably continue at it's present level for some time, and even years from now there will probably be occassional attacks. The simple fact is though that the Sunni insugents are obviously having doubts about the utility of armed struggle, and they are also apparently displeased with their foreign allies. Without local support, the foreign jihadists will be very limited in their capabilities.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Curses, foiled again

What Type of Villain are You?
(via Random Gemini)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Silver Lining to the Kelo decision?

While I continue to believe that the Kelo decision was a mistake, it does occur to me that there may be a bright side to it. I have long felt that by and large we don't pay enough attention to local politics, certainly I am guilty of this myself, and that that lack of attention manifests as a problem all the way up to the national level. First off, the majority of politicians get their start at the local or state level. Since we seldom pay much attention to these races, they are largely controled by party machinery. This both impacts negatively on the quality of our 'stable' of politicians for higher offices, and creates politicians who 'owe' a lot to the party. Greater involvement and interest by the electorate could certainly help alleviate these issues. Greater involvement by the citizens hopefully will also help improve areas that otherwise often get relegated to the Federal Government such as education. The Supreme Court has created a powerful incentive for being involved with local politics for all homeowners.

Inigo Montoya award

Crosblog has posted another in his series. Check it out.

Karl Rove

Karl Rove's comments from the other day are stirring up a lot of controversy. In particular this bit, as reported in the New York Post Online Edition::

But perhaps the most important difference between conservatives and liberals can be found in the area of national security. Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. In the wake of 9/11, conservatives believed it was time to unleash the might and power of the United States military against the Taliban. In the wake of 9/11, the liberals believed it was time to submit a petition. I'm not joking. Submitting a petition was precisely what Moveon.org, then known as 9/11peace.org did. You may have seen it in The New York Times or The Washington Post, the San Francisco Examiner or the L.A. Times. (Funny, I didn't see it in the Amarillo Globe News.)
Charges of hypocrisy are flying around from both sides, with Conservatives claiming Liberals are hippocrits because they are condemning these remarks but did not condemn Durbin's and Liberals claiming exactly the reverse. Politicians being hippocrits is neither new, nor particularly interesting as far as I am concerned. I take it as a given that that will happen. However, I think it is interesting to examine the two statements for similarities and differences. I will try to do so in a fair manner, and not let my own political preferences show. First off, lets look at how the statements were similar. Both Rove and Durbin made claims of questionable accuracy. Certainly not all liberals believed that 9/11 deserved a petition, not a military response and as most are aware Guantanamo is quite different in conduct, scale and certainly lethality than the brutal regimes Durbin mentioned. I do not think it particularly useful to try and decide which is more untruthful or dishonest. Let us simply leave accept that neither statement is totally honest. There are some signifigant differences between the two statements though. First off is the forum they were speaking at. Dick Durbin made his statements on Senate floor, as part of the public record, while Rove was addressing the New York State Conservative Party dinner. This is, I believe, a signifigant difference. Another difference is in the subject matter of the two speeches. Karl Rove was talking about his political ideology and the opposing ideology, Durbin was talking about U.S. policy and the actions our Armed Forces were taking. We somewhat expect, and frequently encounter, distortions of an opponents political beliefs. This certainly is a bi-partisan practice, and while something we should perhaps condemn, is not something we commonly demand an apology for. Usually the correct response to such distortions is considered to be to refute such charges. We more or less expect politics to be somewhat 'rough and tumble.' However, we also expect our politicians to honor our basic institutions, particularly the men and women who volunteer to serve our country. This may or may not be a fair distinction, but it is one that we more or less commonly accept. The last difference that I see is the reletive importance of the two subjects. I expect that there will always be contention between Liberal and Conservative ideologies. We will forever be debating what the proper solution to various problems is based upon our political predilections. Liberals will assume the worst motives and outcomes of Conservative proposals and Conservative will do the reverse. Simply put, the subject matter of Rove's speech was unimportant. Dealing with 'enemy combatants' on the other hand is an important responsibility of our time. We need to answer the fundamental questions of how to treat these people and maintain our security. Durbin brought up a very important topic, and I think he also brought up some very important information about that topic. He then felt the need to engage in some over the top rhetoric, presumably as an exercise in political theatre. He hampered, rather than fostered a very important debate. Further, his inititial refusal to apologize continued to hamper that debate. Certainly, those who spent their time calling for an apology didn't help matters, and that didn't help the debate either, but the initial opening of this can of worms was Durbin's, and the response to his words was entirely predictable. I was not one of those calling for Durbin's apology. I preferred to ignore his statement, because I felt it was not helpful to an important debate that we needed to have. I did laud him for making the apology when he did so however. Whether Karl Rove apoligizes or does not, it will not substantially change the nature of politics. I won't say whether Rove should apologize or not. As far as I am concerned that is up to him. I certainly will encourage any Liberals who disagree with his remarks to present their case as to why what he said is inaccurate.

Lileks photographs an eminent domain seizure

Houses Sacrificed for the Best Buy HQ:

Before the houses were demolished I swung by and shot a few rolls; the sight of these perfectly good 60s houses standing naked & empty behind wire fences was somehow disturbing, as if something horrible had happened here. In the long view, nothing horrible happened at all; in the long view, the land was reused for a more profitable purpose. Sprawl was converted into density, which is what the New Urbanists want, after all. In the long view this is probably a wonderful turn of events. I can say that because these weren'’t my homes. Even so: I won’t say it.
Lileks took this series of photos a while ago, but it is certainly timely to look at them now. The houses aren't the nicest in the world, but it certainly appeared to be a pretty decent neighborhood before it was seized.

US approves first 'ethnic drug'


US drugs regulators have approved a heart failure drug specifically for treating black patients. The Food and Drug Administration gave BiDil the go-ahead after tests found it cut by 43% deaths in heart patients who identified themselves as black. The FDA says the drug is a step towards the promise of tailored medicine. ... However, some doctors and ethicists have objected to the licensing of BiDil saying there is no biological reason why it should work differently on patients of different races.
This is an interesting development. On the one hand, I certainly welcome progress toward more tailored medicine. That is wonderful, and I expect that we will continue to see great improvement in this field. On the other hand, I am all for a 'color-blind' society where race plays less and less of an issue. It would be nice if the world actually worked the way I would like and racial differences were entirely trivial. The effectiveness of this medicine calls that into question. If a medicine only works for one race, what other differences will we find over time. This could end up being a pandoras box. I don't believe that blacks are more racially inclined to violence (to use a common sterotype.) What if they were though? What if we find more racial differences that are psycological in nature? I am not sure how our society would, or should react to such a development. I believe that what is, is and we cannot ignore it or make it go away just because we don't like it. I also believe though that we should strive for what ought to be, not just be content with what is.

Pictures of Unilateralism

Chrenkoff has photos of the armed forces of other nations helping out in Iraq. Well worth taking a look at. (via Environmental Republican)

The Best of Enemies

Jack Valenti reminisces about bi-partisanship during the Johnson administration in The New York Times:

They were like two old medieval warriors who had fought a hundred battles against each other. But when night fell, they would sit around a campfire, on neutral ground, and talk. L.B.J. understood that the role of the opposition was to oppose. Dirksen (and Ford and Halleck) knew that opposing didn't mean you couldn't give a little here and there. Neither surrendered core beliefs. But they both knew that in politics, nothing lasts for long. Mandates fade. Power passes. And majority, as sure as the seasons change, eventually becomes minority.
I certainly wasn't around for the Johnson administration, and we certainly do have a lack of bi-partisanship today. Still, this sort of thing always tends to amuse me. Life has always been better back in the 'golden age,' everything was noble and pure before laziness, today's youth, or whichever evil you prefer crept in an corrupted everything. I am sure that during the Johnson administration there were those who complained about how things were so much better and more congenial during the Hoover administration. I don't think things in general get worse. Sure, there are ups and downs to everything. On the whole though, things are better now then they were a hundred years ago, and I see that trend continuing.

Friedman on Trade

New York Times:

Ah, those French. How silly can they be? The European Union wants to consolidate its integration and France, trying to protect its own 35-hour workweek and other welfare benefits, rejects the E.U. constitution. What a bunch of antiglobalist Gaullist Luddites! Yo, Jacques, what world do you think you're livin' in, pal? Get with the program! It's called Anglo-American capitalism, mon ami. Lordy, it is fun poking fun at France. But wait ...wait ... what is that noise I hear coming from the U.S. Congress? Is that ... is that members of the U.S. Congress - many of them Democrats - threatening to reject Cafta, the Central American Free Trade Agreement? Is that members of the U.S. Congress afraid to endorse a free-trade agreement, signed over a year ago, with El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic? Mon Dieu! I am afraid it is. And for many of the same reasons France has resisted more integration: a protectionist fear of competition in a world without walls. Yes, we are all Frenchmen now.
Read the whole thing.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Raging Rino's

Scott, the Environmental Republican has decided to join The Raging RINOs TTLB Community. This group seems to match my political affiliation so I will join as well.
Raging Rino Posted by Hello

Further thoughts on Kelo v. City of New London

Perhaps the Court is once again taking foreign jurisprudence into consideration.
Zimbabwe Posted by Hello (photo via Gateway Pundit)

Why the Constitution matters

Pretty much every time an interesting Supreme Court decision comes up, Honest Partisan and I end up in a debate about the limits of governmental power, with Honest Partisan pretty much taking the line that so long as a decision is democratic, it should be honored by the courts and that Federalism is not an important principle, the merits of a particular democratic decision are all that should matter. (HP, If I have misstated or misunderstood your view, feel free to correct me, and I will make an update noting that.) I vehemently disagree with this point of view. Our Constitution, and any Constitution, fulfills two basic purposes. First, it codifies how we decide various issues. In our case, it puts various decisions under the control of the 3 branches of Government, explains what level of support (majority, supermajority, executive decision) is needed for each of these decisions and how the representatives that will make these actual decisions are selected by the people who are accorded sovereign power. For the most part, this is well understood and seldom a cause for controversy in and off itself. The second thing that it does is place limits on what the government has jurisdiction over, what sort of things can be decided upon in the first place. This is, I feel, often poorly understood and certainly an area in which there is much controversy. The Founders were very concerned about a Democracy without these limits, as illustrated by this quote from Tomas Jefferson:

A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.
I am not of the opinion that just because the Founders believed something it is of necessity true. However, I certainly agree with this statement. If there are no limits on Governmental action, if with a 51% vote anything can happen there is no reason for a minority to acquiesce to the will of the majority rather than resorting to violence. Limits on Governmental power means that we can afford to settle or differences democratically because our basic rights our guaranteed regardless of whether we are a part of the majority or not. Certainly the recent Supreme Court decisions that have expanded governmental power and, seemingly to me at least, have rewritten the Constitution, do not mean that all of our basic rights are gone. However, they have certainly made it clear that the Court does not feel bound by the plain meaning of the Constitution and that the ideology, rather than the scholarship, of Judges is of paramount importance. This can best be illustrated about the abortion debate. The Supreme Court had 3 possible ways it could view abortion when Roe v. Wade came up. They could take the view that there was a basic right in the Constitution that guaranteed an abortion. (this is of course what they concluded.) Theoretically I suppose they could take the opposite view here, that a fetus was a person entitled to constitutional protection. Both decisions would base themselves on basic individual rights however. They could take the view that there was no basic personal right to an abortion but that the Federal Government had jurisdiction over the matter (this didn't really come up as there was no such Federal Law, although their ruling obviously mooted the issue.) They could take the view that this was a decision left up to the several states. (This was what they explicitly ruled against, on grounds of abortion being a personal right.) Theoretically, it should not matter one bit whether a judge approves or disapproves of abortion when deciding this issue. It does not matter if abortion is a good idea or a bad idea. They are not deciding what is 'right' they are deciding on where the power to make that decision lies. I don't know of anyone who believes that this is what actually happened in Roe vs. Wade however. Both the pro and the anti-abortion sides seem to believe strongly that this decision was made on the basis of whether the individual Judges thought abortion was good or bad. This is why both parties see the question of whether a judge supports or disapproves of abortion as relevant to the confirmation process. In truth, whether Roe v. Wade is a 'good' decision about abortion or not is not valid. I am pretty happy with the compromise it made in fact. The question is, was the constitution correctly interpreted as to who has the power to decide this issue. I think that most people, who examine this decision dispassionately, will conclude that it was not. We have of course mechanisms for altering the limits within the Constitution. This is purposefully difficult to do, as the bar for amending the Constitution is set very high. It is also largely moot at this point, since it is far easier to get 5 Judges who agree with you on the Supreme Court than it is to actually change the Constitution. This is of course why the political battles over Judges have become so partisan in recent years. Since we have abandoned the notion that Judges interpret the Constitution based upon what it actually says, rather than what they believe is right there is no good reason for the minority party to abide by previously established norms. The Supreme Court is a game for all the marbles, and there is absolutely no reason to limit ones tactics. It is this factor that probably inspired Sen. John Cornyn:
Cornyn, citing recent cases of violence against judges, said he wondered "whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people ... engage in violence."
Cornyn was pilloried for this statement on the grounds that he was insisting this violence. I certainly do not think that violence against Judges is justified, but his argument has a lot of merit. If there are no limits on Court decisions, if they are not bound to interpret the Constitution rather than rewrite it, then there are no protections in the Constitution for a minority and there is no reason to trust in Democracy rather than force to achieve one's end. Of course there is good news for anti-abortion advocates in the recent court decisions. Based upon the Raich decision I can see no reason why Congress can't ban abortions on interstate commerce grounds. Based upon the Kelo decision I see no reason that a municipal government facing a desiring a higher population can't seize a woman's womb for 'public use' and demand that she reproduce, so long as she is compensated.

Supreme Court Rules Cities May Seize Homes

Washington Post:

The Supreme Court today effectively expanded the right of local governments to seize private property under eminent domain, ruling that people's homes and businesses -- even those not considered blighted -- can be taken against their will for private development if the seizure serves a broadly defined 'public use.' In a 5-4 decision, the court upheld the ability of New London, Conn., to seize people's homes to make way for an office, residential and retail complex supporting a new $300 million research facility of the Pfizer pharmaceutical company. The city had argued that the project served a public use within the meaning of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution because it would increase tax revenues, create jobs and improve the local economy.
This is a horrible decision and violates the entire concept of property rights.
In a strongly worded dissenting opinion, O'Connor wrote that the majority's decision overturns a long-held principle that eminent domain cannot be used simply to transfer property from one private owner to another. "Today the Court abandons this long-held, basic limitation on government power," she wrote. "Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded -- i.e., given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public -- in the process." The effect of the decision, O'Connor said, "is to wash out any distinction between private and public use of property -- and thereby effectively to delete the words "for public use" from the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment."
I believe that this would be a textbook example of judicial activism. (via VodkaPundit, Will Collier has similar thoughts to mine.) Update: Honest Partisan has a different opinion.

Hubble finds Sauron

New Scientist:
A spectacular, luminous ring offers the best evidence yet that a nearby star is circled by a newly formed solar system. The ring is composed of dust particles in orbit around Fomalhaut, a bright star located just 25 light years away in the constellation Pisces Austalis – or the Southern Fish. A recent image captured with the Hubble Space Telescope - which makes the system look uncannily like the Great Eye of Sauron from the blockbusting Lord of the Rings trilogy - confirms that Fomalhaut’s ring is curiously offset with respect to the star.
(via VodkaPundit)

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Herbie: Not Quite Fully Loaded?

Random Gemini and Reason's Edge have recently posted on the quality of this summer's movies, or the lack there off, inspired by this Roger L. Simon post. In light of this conversation, this item caught my eye:

Images of the star in the film have already caused controversy after parents argued that Lindsay Lohan's character was too busty and revealingly dressed for a children's film. It was claimed that Disney technicians have gone back and digitally raised necklines on her shirts and reduced the appearance of her breasts by two cup sizes. However, Angela Robinson, the director of the film, denies any behind-the-scenes alterations to prevent Lohan being too sexy for the film. 'No, we didn't digitally reduce her boobs,' she said.
I expect her boobs in the film are intact. I don't claim to be a marketing genius, but if you are seeking, as Simon puts it, "the coveted 17-year old boy audience," reducing boobs would not be my first choice in how to accomplish that. On the other hand, this should do the trick.

Fighting in Afghanistan

Guardian Unlimited:

Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces surrounded a rebel hide-out in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, and the number of insurgents killed from three days of fighting rose to 102, the defense ministry said. The battle was one of the deadliest since the Taliban's ouster more than three years ago and was sure to add to growing anxiety that an Iraq-style conflict is developing here. ``A total of 102 Taliban have been killed since the fighting started on Tuesday,'' Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Marad said, 26 more than were reported on Wednesday evening. ``These deaths will have a huge impact on the rebels. Many are trying to flee. But we have them surrounded.'' The U.S. military Wednesday put the rebel death toll at 49. Lt. Cindy Moore, a spokeswoman for the force, said there had been no update since then and referred questions to the Afghan government. Gen. Salim Khan, commander of 400 Afghan policemen who took part in the fighting, said the insurgents had been hit hard.
There are a couple of things that strike me as significant about this. First off, it seems to be a fairly clear victory which is certainly a good thing. Second, and most important, is that while the Afghan forces certainly recieved U.S. help, they were at the center of the fighting. The Karzai government has mostly been ruling Kabul, and their control over the rest of Afghanistan has been nominal. It appears to me that they now feel they have the strength to begin extending de facto control to the rest of the country. This is tremendously important. There is another clue in the article that signify that this might in fact be what is happening:
Gen. Ayub Salangi, the police chief for Kandahar province where much of the fighting has occurred, said the massive assault on the rebels was in response to a Taliban ambush of a government convoy last week that left a local police commander and six of his men dead. The local government chief was believed kidnapped in that assault, but Salangi said investigators have determined that he was actually a member of the Taliban and may have orchestrated the ambush.
We can speculate that as long as this local warlord felt comfortable in his local hegemony he would not have felt a need to act. Presumably, increased pressure on his activities prompted him to move from tacit support of the Karzai government to direct opposition. A gamble that appears to have not paid off for him. Of course, these promising signs are not good enough for some people:
The bloodshed has raised concerns that the war is widening, rather than winding down. U.S. and Afghan officials have warned that violence could get even worse before parliamentary elections scheduled for September.
It is fairly rare that a military conflict 'winds down.' Typically, the violence is most intense when one side or the other is on it's last legs. Certainly this doesn't mean that after this battle everything will now be wonderful and happy in Afghanistan. Expanding the central governments control to the provinces and building the infrastructure needed for a successful democracy will take time. Violence will continue. Treating progess as defeat though is a not the way to win wars.

Palestinians Close to Deal to Disarm Militants


Palestinian officials said today they have reached a tentative agreement to absorb about 700 gunmen in the West Bank city of Nablus into the Palestinian security services, pushing forward with a campaign aimed at disarming rogue militants roaming the Palestinian areas. The programme of offering government jobs to militants in exchange for giving up their weapons has been a centrepiece of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ efforts to impose law and order in the chaotic West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel has said the tactic is ineffective and demanded tougher action against the militants, and even Palestinian officials conceded the weapons collection would not take place anytime soon. Still, reaching a deal in Nablus could be significant. The city is widely considered to be a centre of militant activity – a concern that was underscored yesterday when gunmen in a nearby refugee camp opened fire and set off a bomb as the Palestinian prime minister delivered an emotional lecture about the need to end the chaos. No one was injured.
On the one hand, I welcome the idea of Palestinian militants joining the political process and abandoning unilateral violence. On the other hand, I worry that too many of these people are not 'freedom fighters' but thugs and murderers. Juvenal, the Roman satirist wrote, "Who will guard the guards themselves?" This question seems especially relevant in terms of the Palestinian security services which already seem to have a very unhealthy number of guards who need guarding. Leavening this already unhealthy mix with more extremists seems somewhat dangerous. Historically though, it has always been the thugs and murderers who seized power and eventually became the politicians and police. Western institutions have distanced us greatly from these ignoble roots, but they are their nonetheless. Perhaps it is necessary that Palestine follows the same path. I would like to think though, that with all of our expirience at developing social institutions we could find a better way.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

More on Zimbabwe


State radio said Wednesday people displaced by a government eviction campaign were being provided for in a 'transit camp.' Meanwhile, the government's campaign to clear the homes, businesses and even gardens of the poor from its cities has sparked more violence, a pro-government newspaper reported. The U.N. estimates up to 1.5 million people were left homeless after police burned or demolished their shacks in what the government calls a clean up campaign in the cities. The political opposition, which has its base among the urban poor, says the 4-week-old Operation Murambatsvina, or Drive Out Trash, is meant to punish its supporters. The government said Tuesday that besides knocking down shacks and the kiosks of street vendors, police were intensifying efforts to destroy vegetable gardens the urban poor plant in vacant lots around Harare, saying the plots threatened the environment.
Many of Zimbabwe's recent problems could be blamed by stupidity as much as malice. The balance seems to have shifted now though, with Mugabe determined to destroy his nation as quickly and completely as possible. It is difficult to imagine what he is hoping to gain from all this.

Go Condi


'The Egyptian Government must fulfill the promise it has made to its people--and to the entire world--by giving its citizens the freedom to choose. Egypt's elections, including the Parliamentary elections, must meet objective standards that define every free election.'--Condoleezza Rice, speaking Monday at the American University, Cairo Ever since President Bush settled on a policy of promoting democracy in the Middle East, he has been repeatedly lambasted for his alleged hypocrisy: Why advocate democracy for Iraq and Lebanon, say the critics, but not for autocratic U.S. allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia? In this telling, 'democracy' is said to be just an alibi for the pursuit of narrow U.S. interests, especially a steady supply of oil. Well, so much for that view. On Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to Cairo and then Riyadh and, in soft tones, delivered a stark message: America would no longer pursue 'stability at the expense of democracy.' The U.S. will now notice when peaceful Egyptian protestors are brutalized by government security goons, or when Saudi citizens are imprisoned for 'peacefully petitioning the government'; and the future of both countries as American allies rests on the seriousness of their commitment to democratic reform. 'It is time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy,' said Ms. Rice. 'There are those who say that democracy is being imposed. In fact, the opposite is true: Democracy is never imposed. It is tyranny that must be imposed.' She also met with political opponents of President Hosni Mubarak.
Condoleeza Rice is, in my opinion, the best Secretary of State we have had since John Quincy Adams, who was behind the Monroe Doctrine. I expect that history will treat her with great kindness.

In good company

It is pretty apparent that my acceptance of Durbin's apology put me in the minority on the right side of the blogosphere. However, it is quality, not quantity that matters and Lt. Smash who I greatly respect agrees with my sentiments. His advice:

Be gracious. Accept the apology, chalk it up as a victory if that makes you happy, and move on.

Proportional Representation

Hear Oh Israel has a couple of posts up that are critical of Israel's democratic parlimentary representative system. While the comments are from a definetly right wing perspective, the analysis of proportional representation is sound. For those of you unfamiliar with proportional representation, here is a good overview of how it works. In short, each party gets a percentage of seats based upon the percentage of votes it recieves in the election. This means that smaller parties have a much greater say in the governing process than they do in our winner take all system. I used to be in favor of proportional representation. It struck me as a nice way to make my vote 'count' and to better allow me to pick a party that more closely matched my personal preferences. Certainly the majority of Democracies have chosen this system. I have changed my mind on that however. The problem with proportional representation occurs when it is actually time to form a government, after the election is complete. Due to the diversity of parties a proportional representation system fosters, it is almost unheard of for any one party to gain a clear majority. In order to form a government, the party with the largest number of votes typically has to create a coalition with one or more smaller parties to gain the majority in needs (theoretically the party with the largest votes could be shut out of the eventual governing coalition, but I don't know of any cases where this has happened.) In forming this coalition the parties have to make compromises with one another, diluting the platform on which they ran on. These compromises may make the governing coalition radically different from anything that the voters were actually voting on. In our winner take all system the major political parties are 'pre-formed' coalitions of different voter groups. The Republican Party, for example, is primarily a coalition between social conservatives and traditional small government conservatives. They have compromised on a platform and a common ideology that neither side is fully happy with, but both are mostly willing to accept. A similar dynamic exists in the Democratic Party, although the number of 'voter groups' is greater there. The point is though, we vote for a particular person who has agreed to a public compromise. As a small government conservative, if I vote for a Republican I know that I am going to be furthering the interests of social conservatives, who I frequently disagree with. It is a compromise that I have to make to get what I want. I know though, that I am making this compromise and if, I decide that this compromise is not worth it I can with hold my electoral support. Primary elections further let me influence the nature of the compromise I will be making. I have come to greatly appreciate the fact that the ideological compromises are mostly made before, not after, I vote however. Yes, it means I don't get to vote for my 'perfect' candidate. It puts more work on me as a voter because making compromises can be difficult. It puts me in charge of this though, and that is very important. This is not to say that our system is perfect, I have spoken on Gerrymandering before and it is a serious flaw in our system. On the whole though, I think our two party, winner take all system is a lot more fair, and a lot more democratic, than the proportional representation systems.

Solar-powered spacecraft feared lost

CBC News:

A spacecraft designed to be the first space vehicle entirely propelled by the sun's energy was feared lost on Wednesday. Russian officials said they were looking for debris from Cosmos 1, a joint U.S.-Russia craft powered by solar sail, saying it had not gained orbit due to a booster rocket failure. Drawing of Cosmos 1 leaving the orbit of Earth. 'The booster's failure means the solar sail vehicle was lost,' said Vyacheslav Davidenko, spokesman for the Russian space agency.
Too bad. It was a neat idea and I am always happy to see private ventures into space.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Durbin apoligizes

K. J. Lopez of The Corner provides a rough transcript. I think his apology is pretty classy. I didn't post on the whole Durbin fiasco because I felt his remarks kept us away, rather than helped to foster, a very important national debate. We do, I believe anyway, need to develop clear guidlines and boundaries for how we deal with 'enemy combatants.' Of necessity, we will have to make compomises between a perfect world and the world we live in, and our existing compromises dealing with traditional criminals and POWs only provide minimal guidlines for this issue. As it is though, our rules are not clear enough. The American people do not understand them. I fear that the interogators serving our country do not have clear guidlines either, and that is very unfair to them. I don't have the answers for what rules we should have in place. I do think we need to ask the questions and our legislators (not the executive branch) should craft a clear policy on detainment, interogation techniques, and legal recourse. This may make us less safe. We have many hallowed judicial traditions that make us less safe. This is something though that we should all carefully and thoughtfully consider. Overheated rhetorical comparisons will only damage, not aid this discussion. Hopefully Durbin's apology can move toward dealing with this issue in the correct manner.

Heroism and Villainy

This The Belmont Club post is a must read. Two men are talked about in the post. Both are considered heroes by some, and villains by others. Which category you put each in says a lot I think

Some good news

CNN.com :

Volunteers told CNN Tuesday that the 11-year-old Cub Scout missing for four days has been found alive. Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said the boy was in no mood to talk, that he was hungry, thirsty and wanted to see his mother. 'It's one of the most touching moments I've ever seen in my life,' he said.
Sometimes the worst doesn't happen. It is good to remember that once in a while.


Winds of Change.NET has an extremely interesting post up about observed fighting amoung insurgent factions and some pretty good analysis of what that means. (via Instapundit)

No Time to Go Wobbly

This op-ed by Brendan Minter explains why we should not have a timetable for leaving Iraq.:

The last thing we need in Iraq is a timeline for withdrawal. Victory sets its own schedule, and it's not contingent on the U.S. election calendar. Arbitrarily forcing a timetable on the battlefield will only aid the enemy. Yet a growing number of politicians are now calling for just that--or, at least, a better (read more negative) official accounting of what's happening in Iraq. With polls showing less support for the war and pols parroting that public opinion, we're in danger of losing sight of how to defeat the enemy.
He also provides a quick overview about why Iraq was important, regardless of WMD stockpiles. What he says pretty much matches my views.

Highbrow Spam

Brain get's more interesting spam than I do.

Knock it off


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Syria on Tuesday of fomenting instability in Lebanon and told them to 'knock it off.' She was speaking after a bomb killed George Hawi, an anti-Syrian politician and the former leader of the Lebanese Communist Party. Rice said she did not know who detonated the bomb but said: 'There is a context and an atmosphere of instability. Syria's activities are part of that context and a part of that atmosphere and they need to knock it off.'
Heh. I like that.



President Bush told Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai on Tuesday that he supported Vietnam's bid to join the World Trade Organization, and urged more reforms on human rights and religious freedoms. The meeting marked 10 years since diplomatic ties resumed between the two former foes and it was the first visit by a Vietnamese prime minister since the war ended 30 years ago. Bush said he would visit Vietnam in 2006 when it hosts the annual summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. 'We talked about our desire for Vietnam to join the WTO,' Bush told reporters in an Oval Office picture-taking session after their talks. Vietnam has set a goal of joining the WTO at the trade organization's next ministerial meeting in December in Hong Kong. The U.S. Congress would have to vote on any deal to allow Vietnam to join the WTO, as it did with China in 2000. Khai said his visit 'shows that Vietnam-U.S. relations have in fact entered a new stage of development.'
This is great news for me, as I am a big believer in free trade. It is time to fully welcome Vietnam into the WTO.

Austin Bay on Iraq


This return visit to Iraq, however, spurs thoughts of America -- to be specific, thoughts about America's will to pursue victory. I don't mean the will of US forces in the field. Wander around with a bunch of Marines for a half hour, spend 15 minutes with National Guardsmen from Idaho, and you will have no doubts about American military capabilities or the troops' will to win. But our weakness is back home, in front of the TV, on the cable squawk shows, on the editorial page of The New York Times, in the political gotcha games of Washington, D.C. It seems America wants to get on with its Electra-Glide life, that Sept. 10 sense of freedom and security, without finishing the job. The military is fighting, the Iraqi people are fighting, but where is the US political class? The Bush administration has yet to ask the American people -- correction, has yet to demand of the American people -- the sustained, shared sacrifice it takes to win this long, intricate war of bullets, ballots and bricks. Bullets go bang, and even CBS understands bullets. Ballots make an impression -- in terms of this war's battlespace, the January Iraqi elections were World War II's D-Day and Battle of the Bulge combined. But the bricks -- the building of Iraq, Afghanistan and the other hard corners where this war is and will be fought -- that's a delicate and decades-long challenge.
Read the whole thing.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Evil Microsoft

Wired News:

Twenty-eight floors above the traffic-choked streets of China's most wired city, blogger and tech entrepreneur Isaac Mao sums up his opinion of Microsoft and its treatment of the Chinese bloggers with one word. 'Evil,' says Mao. 'Internet users know what's evil and what's not evil, and MSN Spaces is an evil thing to Chinese bloggers.'
I am not a Microsoft hater, indeed I have defended Microsoft in numerous conversations with my friends, although I certainly have always felt the company (not to mention it's software) has failings. I have been following the MSN Spaces/China controversy with interest:
Last week that partnership plunged Microsoft into the long-standing controversy surrounding the Chinese government's internet censorship policies, after Asian blogs and news reports revealed that MSN Spaces blocks Chinese bloggers from putting politically sensitive language in the names of their blogs, or in the titles of individual blog entries. The words and phrases blocked by Microsoft include "Taiwan independence," "Dalai Lama," "human rights," "freedom" and "democracy."
I am not a huge advocate of the corporate responsibility meme. Corporations exist to provide profits for their shareholders. There are limits however, and Microsoft has, in my opinion, crossed the line on this one. I believe I will make it a point not to buy Microsoft products as long as MSN Spaces is contributing to censorship in this fashion. On the plus side, that confirms my decision that my next computer will be a Mac Mini, although Tsykoduk's enthusiastic review had pretty much sealed that decision anyway.


John Fund writes about a Social Security compromise in the OpinionJournal.:

Politically, their proposal does disarm some of the most oft-used arguments against reform. It would create no new debt for the government because, unlike President Bush's proposal, the personal accounts would use only the surplus payroll taxes now flowing into the Treasury. That surplus will hit some $85 billion next year, and grow in succeeding years to the point that it could provide every worker who wanted one with a personal account of some $1,200. The surpluses will total some $2.5 billion until 2017, when Social Security starts running a deficit as baby boomers begin to retire. Preventing that money from being 'raided' by a spendthrift Congress and White House could be enormously popular with a cynical public. In addition, if the personal accounts were limited to no-risk, but marketable, Treasury bills, the argument about the 'scary and risky' stock market investment of payroll taxes would be neutralized. Converting the nonmarketable IOUs the government now holds into marketable Treasury bills issued to taxpayers would create an asset that individuals would own and be able to pass on to their heirs. If history is a guide, such risk-free Treasurys would earn an annual rate of return of between 2.5% and 3%--much better than Social Security will deliver. The surpluses would become real assets owned by citizens rather than government IOUs (or, more accurately, 'I owe me's') piling up in a filing cabinet in West Virginia.
Politically, this seems like a tough plan to beat. Obviously, we would need either an immediate reduction in government spending, or increased revenue or an increase in out dept to replace the SS money that is currently being spent on government activities. The sooner we do that, the better however. If we don't do that now, we have have to do it in a decade in any event. Of course this plan does nothing to address the long term solvency of the system, but it does make it more likely that any changes made to reform the solvency problems will actually have the desired effect. The reforms in the 80s had little effect because the Government simply spent the money anyway. There are of course reasons for liberals to oppose this plan. First off, people will probably like these accounts, and as such they will likely be expanded upon, additionally there will be a desire for people to have investment options beyond treasury bills with their personal accounts. Those reasons for opposition will not be popular however. The biggest reason that liberals won't like this, in my opinion, is that they are emotionally and ideologically invested in a collectivist solution, one that gives the appearance anyway that we are all in this together. Even though Social Security benefits are related to how much you pay into the system over your lifetime, the arcane formulas involved in determining this provide the appearance that everyone is in the same boat. In addition, the pay as you go system lets each succeeding generation get more out of it than they put into it, keeping the program as a whole popular. Individual account do attack the very premise of the system, as well as causing people to compare their financial performance with other investment options, something that cannot really be done currently. That is why liberals will hate this propossal, because they fear that the people will like it too much.

US deficit shrinks: a vindication for tax cuts?


But a surge in tax receipts has offered some encouragement. For the first eight months of this fiscal year, the government ran a deficit of $272 billion. That's down from the $346 billion deficit for the same months in fiscal 2004. Receipts were up 15 percent from last year. While that revenue surprise won't cure the nation's overspending problem, it has set off a flurry of budget speculation. A number of economists are lowering substantially their estimates for this year's deficit. Ed McKelvey, an economist with Goldman Sachs, for example, revised his forecast of the fiscal 2005 deficit to $350 billion, down from $412 billion. Some hope, perhaps unjustifiably, that the deficit will continue to shrink. Meanwhile, experts are trying to figure out where the extra revenue came from. Leonard Burman, a former Treasury official and now an economist at the Urban Institute, suspects the April-May revenue jump reflects a surge in nonwithheld personal taxes - big bonuses, for instance, paid by Wall Street firms to their executives and other top employees, or handsome capital gains from stock sales in the resurgent stock markets. Another factor: The well-to-do have been getting richer, and they still face higher tax rates than average taxpayers or the poor, despite the Bush tax cuts. Thanks to a rise in corporate profits last year, corporate tax payments have also risen 47 percent. Moreover, a special tax break, a bonus depreciation on investments in plant and equipment, expired at the end of 2004. Perhaps the most interesting speculation revolves around whether long-term effects of tax cuts are beginning to kick in. Many supply-side enthusiasts certainly believe they are. The new tax revenue numbers are 'an eye-popping vindication of the Laffer Curve and the Bush tax cut's real economic value,' wrote a Wall Street Journal editorial writer.
Supply side economics has some mixed performance data, partially at least because there are a lot more factors than taxation in economic performance. However, this is good news for supply side advocates. Of course that good news is bad news for small government advocates hoping to 'starve the beast' since if cutting taxes raises revenues, government will still grow despite tax cuts. Obviously, supply side cuts can't increase revenue forever, if revenue generation for government is your goal there must be a maximum point, as it is obvious that will the ultimate in low taxes - zero, there would be no revenue at all. The growing economy that is promoting this revenue jump is unambiguously a good sign however. (via Running for the Right)

Some more on evolution

Laura Brown posts:

As one who believes that God made the world through the mechanisms of evolution, I feel extremely strongly about this subject. To me, the story of evolution conveys God's grandeur far more thoroughly and beautifully than does a literal interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis (although I value Genesis greatly as poetry and allegory).
I'm with Laura on this. My God is big enough to use evolution (and quantum physics as well, despite Einstein's doubts.) It is hard for me to understand anyone who 'opposes' teaching evolution. It is pretty obvious that either evolution is at least part of how mankind, and every other creature came to be. There may be other mechanisms that we do not understand yet, but it is a simple fact that creatures change over time via natural selection. There is one other feasible possibility of course. A supreme, omnipotent being could conceivable have created the earth and the Universe 6000 years ago (or yesterday for that matter) with an intact history. Even if this were true however, that being obviously had a purpose in creating the evolutionary history we can observe and it seems to me that the purpose would have to be for us to study and learn from it. Click through to Laura's post for the bit on pink Algae as well. Pretty cool stuff.

What Planet are you from?

You Are From Neptune

You are dreamy and mystical, with a natural psychic ability. You love music, poetry, dance, and (most of all) the open sea. Your soul is filled with possibilities, and your heart overflows with compassion. You can be in a room full of friendly people and feel all alone. If you don't get carried away with one idea, your spiritual nature will see you through anything.
(via The Anchoress) I'd say this is about half accurate. I certainly have a compassionate, mystical and dreamy side. There is also though a very hard, logical and sometimes cruel side of me as well. The quiz has some of the more interesting questions that I have seen though.

Lebanon vote

AP Wire:

The anti-Syrian opposition secured a majority in the Lebanese parliament Monday, breaking Damascus' long political hold on its tiny neighbor after opposition candidates swept all seats in the last round of elections, according to unofficial results. A campaign official for anti-Syrian opposition leader Saad Hariri said the slate had won all seats in the north, guaranteeing the parliamentary majority. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Hariri was expected to announce the victory himself later Monday at a news conference. As news of the win spread, women and children waved flags and danced on the streets of the northern port city of Tripoli. Motorcades of cheering, honking supporters drove through Beirut, the capital, in celebration.
Good. Now the tough part starts. Democracy is a process, not an event, as so many keep reminding us. Diffusing the long standing rivalries that still exist in Lebanon and building a functioning political infrastucture that will be able to support a robust Democracy is a herculean task. Doubtless there will be failings and setbacks in the process. Lebanon once was an enlighted and progressive country though. There is no reason that it cannot become so again. The events that have unfolded in Lebanon will also likely have a huge positive impact on Israeli-Palestinian peace as Lebanon will hopefully become much less willing to supply (and provide a pipeline for others to supply) Palestinian terrorist organizations.