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28 May 2007

Political Ineptitude

If one ever wanted to wonder why real leftists did not consider the Democratic Party in the United States to be a party of the left, the run-up to the current Iraq War is exemplary.

In his upcoming political tell-all book, Bob Shrum alleges that John Kerry called him to ask for his political advice on the eve of the October 11, 2002, vote to authorize the Iraq invasion. Kerry was privately skeptical of the WMD claims and distrusting of the Bush Administration, Shrum writes, but Kerry adviser Jim Jordan told Kerry: "Go ahead and vote against it if you want, but you'll never be president of the United States." Shrum's implication is that despite his private doubts about the wisdom of the war, Kerry voted for it in response to political advice. Nonetheless, it is Jordan who emerges from the account looking the worst. Current Kerry aides say that his vote for the war was based on conviction.

The problem for Democrats who supported the war early on is that there were plenty of voices against the war. Some were academics whose sane, logical arguments based on years of academic expertise were drowned out by jingoistic, gullible pundits.

  • Saddam Hussein is a murderous despot, but no one has provided credible evidence that Iraq is cooperating with al Qaeda.
  • Even if Saddam Hussein acquired nuclear weapons, he could not use them without suffering massive U.S. or Israeli retaliation.
  • The first Bush administration did not try to conquer Iraq in 1991 because it understood that doing so could spread instability in the Middle East, threatening U.S. interests. This remains a valid concern today.
  • The United States would win a war against Iraq, but Iraq has military options—chemical and biological weapons, urban combat—that might impose significant costs on the invading forces and neighboring states.
  • Even if we win easily, we have no plausible exit strategy. Iraq is a deeply divided society that the United States would have to occupy and police for many years to create a viable state.
  • Al Qaeda poses a greater threat to the U.S. than does Iraq. War with Iraq will jeopardize the campaign against al Qaeda by diverting resources and attention from that campaign and by increasing anti-Americanism around the globe.

Except for the reference to the chemical and biological weapons that Iraq no longer had, these arguments look fairly prescient.

But even if Kerry and others like him decided that academic arguments could be ignored, there were certainly voices like ours that rejected not just the war but the idea that political expediency was wise, even in the short term.

On issue after issue, the political right tries to make the political center cower—and the items on which it fails are notable for being exceptions—supersonic bombers, school prayer, the Panama Canal treaty. On so many others—just to name the most egregious, support for wars or wars by other names, a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons, tax cuts for the most well-off, torture of prisoners, rejection of universal health care, restrictions on abortion—the center acts as if standing up for vaguely left-leaning positions is somehow suicidal politically.

Perhaps someday the leaders of the Democratic Party will realize that what passes for conservatism in Europe is to the left, in general, of their established position in the United States. And then they might realize that a smarter, better party is possible. I think that day might come, but it is not coming if fools and knaves like Kerry and Shrum are running for president and advising politicians about what is possible or desirable.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/28/2007 05:54:00 PM

27 May 2007

The Good Side of Business Week

In spite of their recent decisions to waste two whole pages on Robert Parker's wine column and on Jack and Suzy Welch's ramblings, the editors at Business Week sometimes show why they have a respected magazine.

The most recent example of high-mindedness at Business Week headquarters is the recent cover story explaining how large American companies are sucking the underclass dry.

In recent years, a range of businesses have made financing more readily available to even the riskiest of borrowers. Greater access to credit has put cars, computers, credit cards, and even homes within reach for many more of the working poor. But this remaking of the marketplace for low-income consumers has a dark side: Innovative and zealous firms have lured unsophisticated shoppers by the hundreds of thousands into a thicket of debt from which many never emerge.

The list of businesses eager to exploit the poor include used-car retailer J. D. Byrider Systems, which manipulates sales prices to maximize profits, and customers are the last to know what is going on.

Byrider dealers say they can generally figure out which customers will pay back their loans. Salesmen, many of whom come from positions at banks and other lending companies, use proprietary software called Automated Risk Evaluator (ARE) to assess customers' financial vital signs, ranging from credit scores from major credit agencies to amounts spent on alimony and cigarettes.

Unlike traditional dealers, Byrider doesn't post prices—which average $10,200 at company-owned showrooms—directly on its cars. Salesmen, after consulting ARE, calculate the maximum that a person can afford to pay, and only then set the total price, down payment, and interest rate. Byrider calls this process fair and accurate; critics call it "opportunity pricing."

Other great companies going after the same dollars include tax prepaper Jackson Hewitt, which specializes in lending tax refund money at exorbitant rates; BlueHippo, which gouges customers through its rent-to-own scheme for household goods; and payday lenders Advance America Cash Advance Centers.

All of these companies, save Byrider, are publicly traded—their investors are preying on the miseries of the underclass, and their lenders surely must know what is going on as well. Their customers are the least informed, of course.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/27/2007 06:35:00 PM

26 May 2007

Seeing the Light

One would think that some company would realize that making energy-saving light bulbs for Americans in the United States would be a truly green move. Less of a distance between factory and consumer should mean less fuel consumed overall.

Alas, the lure of low wages and lax environmental enforcement—compact fluorescent bulbs use small amounts of mercury—have led General Electric and other companies to make them in China. American unions have started to ask why that must be the case.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/26/2007 08:58:00 AM

25 May 2007

The Rule of Law

When James Comey related to a Congressional committee the scene of John Ashcroft's refusal to overrule Comey's rejection of a Bush administration eavesdropping program, it reminded me that politics can be a very strange sport. The only reason that Ashcroft was Attorney General was that he had lost his Senate seat in the 2000 election, and one does not expect noble gestures to value the Rule of Law over political expediency from appointees was are, in essence, patronage hires.

and one of the reasons that there is much more than a lick of difference between the Democratic and Republican parties is that in a Republican White House, men like Comey and Ashcroft, who at least pay lip service to civil liberties, are rare. In a Democratic White House, they are common. (The problem with both types of White House is that fools like Gonzalez keep showing up.)

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Posted by Tim W at 5/25/2007 03:18:00 PM

Not Quite Disclosure

The Grey Lady has a good idea, but then misses the point completely.

The initial financial disclosure required of the presidential candidates is already shedding light on important questions of wherewithal looming beyond the glare of televised debate. As voters sort through the crowd, which includes 10 millionaires, they should find their finances useful in sizing up the contenders and whom and what they actually work for....

[Q]uestions about ... candidates' financial decisions—none necessarily nefarious—undoubtedly will arise. Several of the candidates are taking 45-day extensions before filing.

Even then, these election commission reports are more limited than the ultimate disclosure candidates should make by releasing their tax returns. This higher standard has been the tradition — though not a requirement—in past campaigns, but thus far only one of the major candidates, Senator Barack Obama, has released his return. Like other candidates who are senators, Hillary Clinton already files public financial reports in the Capitol. But these are not as definitive as tax returns, which should be part of real disclosure.

Barack and Michelle Obama had indeed released their complete 2006 federal tax return, including statements, but the current occupant of the Oval Office has issued for years tax returns so devoid of explanatory statements as to be well nigh useless.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/25/2007 03:05:00 PM

22 May 2007

Independent in Name Only

It should have been obvious by now that Joe Lieberman's self-description of an "independent Democrat" means only that he will stop caucusing with the Democrats in the Senate when it suits him. So it should come as no surprise that he is already intimating that a switch to the Republicans might suit him sooner rather than later.

Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, says his disagreement with the Democrats over the Iraq war won't prevent him from working with his former party. For now.

"I hope the moment doesn't come that I feel so separated from the caucus" that he decides to shift allegiance to the Republicans, he said in an interview. Asked what Democratic actions might cause such a break, he invoked Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous 1964 definition of pornography: "I'll know it when I see it."

The 65-year-old lawmaker is the margin of difference in the Democrats' 51-49 control of the Senate. A switch to the Republicans, which he won't rule out, would create a 50-50 tie that would allow Vice President Dick Cheney to cast a deciding vote for Republican control.

Anyone who would prefer Dick Cheney exerting control over the organization of the chamber to the status quo might be a small-d democrat, but is surely not a large-D Democrat.

Why should Lieberman's dalliance with the Republicans come as no surprise? Read accounts of his 1988 campaign against (truly liberal) Republican Lowell Weicker, note his positions and campaign strategy, and see how the right wing knew they had an ideological ally in Lieberman.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/22/2007 11:08:00 AM

18 May 2007

There is a Metaphor Here Somewhere

Steve Clemons wonders why Paul Wolfowitz has such a reputation as a strategist.

Many officials in the Bank did not like Wolfowitz because of his central role in designing, planning and launching the Iraq War. But had the former Deputy Secretary of Defense come into the Bank with a compelling plan for global economic development that built on the strengths and addressed some of the weaknesses of the Bank's relative skill sets, a relationship of mutual trust and respect, even if grudging, would have taken root.

Even one of Wolfowitz's closest friends and the not-often discussed third political appointee (the other two were the more controversial Kevin Kellems and Robin Cleveland) brought in by Wolfowitz, Karl Jackson, has reportedly told numerous World Bank and diplomatic pals of his that "Paul has no plan. Everything is ad hoc, reactive—first we go this way, then we go that." If his friends are saying that, imagine what Wolfowitz's enemies think.

It seems to me that Wolfowitz's decline and fall at the World Bank is simply a reflection of what happened at his previous job. Given a task of great import, he concentrated on the wrong aspects of the job and did badly even at that. At the World Bank, he was worried not so much with why the World Bank does such an unimpressive job with helping developing countries, but was more concerned with the (much easier) task of getting his paramour a cushy job. And we all know how well that turned out.

At the White House, his strategic mind did not focus on the truly difficult question of what would happen in Iraq were Saddam Hussein's regime to fall, but instead ignored that for the (much easier) task of figuring out how to defeat the impotent Iraqi Army. And even that job got screwed up.

Posted by Tim W at 5/18/2007 10:56:00 PM

Evil Weaponry

Remember how evil nuclear weapons were supposed to be? Here is George Bush from November 2001:

This is an evil man that we're dealing with, and I wouldn't put it past him to develop evil weapons to try to harm civilization as we know it.

It would be hard to expect the President of the United States to deem the vast arsenal under his command as evil, but one does wonder whether these weapons are evil only when certain people have them, because it is more and more apparent that our friends, despite myriad flaws, are immune from real criticism.

Take Pakistan, an erstwhile democracy that is in its eighth year of military coup. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists now estimates its nuclear arsenal at 60 weapons and counting.

Like other nations that have developed
nuclear weapons, Pakistan does not seem content with a first generation nuclear weapon that uses [highly-enriched uranium]; it has been pursuing plutonium-based designs for at least a decade....

preparing to increase and enhance
its nuclear forces in the coming years, especially if it attempts to match India's
ambitious plans to deploy a nuclear triad of aircraft and land- and sea-based missiles. It is difficult to estimate precisely how many nuclear weapons Pakistan has produced and what types they are, and it is equally troublesome to guess what its future plans might be....

In addition to the nuclear-capable aircraft that it currently has, Pakistan is developing ballistic and cruise missiles that will be perfect for deploying nuclear weapons in new and clearly beneficial ways. What friends of democracy we have in the Pakistani military, and clearly what forces for good they are.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/18/2007 05:04:00 PM

One Day Late

Yesterday was pluperfect with things to do besides blogging for out dozens of readers, so a belated link to International Day Against Homophobia, a great idea from Canada that has yet to take root in the United States.


Posted by Tim W at 5/18/2007 05:01:00 PM

15 May 2007

Nominal Fetishism

In the Washington Post, Tom Grubisch complains that too many bloggers and commenters are anonymous.

If Web sites required posters to use their real names, while giving the shield of pseudonymity when it's merited, spirited online debate would continue unimpeded. It might even be enhanced by attracting contributors who are turned off today by name calling and worse. Except for the hate-mongers, who wouldn't want that?

When Paul and I started writing, first on Bear Left! and then on this site, we used our real names, probably because it never occurred to us that anyone would try to injure us, either literally or metaphorically, for our political opinions. Plus, we never thought that we would get much of an audience, anyway.

As it turned out, we were right that no one tried—as far as we know—to injure us, and—amazingly enough—our rants and commentary received literally dozens of readers each day, not just our families and a few amused colleagues.

Just because we used our real names, however, does not mean that everyone feels safe doing so.

Furthermore, our popularity, or lack thereof, had everything to do with the articles and other content that we cobbled together, and nothing to do with how we signed it. Grubisch makes up a straw man named "anticrat424" at a hypothetical town meeting.

Everybody at the meeting is wearing nametags. You approach a cluster of people where one man is loudly complaining about waste in school spending. "Get rid of the bureaucrats, and then you'll have money to expand the school," he says, shaking his finger at the surrounding faces.

You notice his nametag—"anticrat424." Between his sentences, you interject, "Excuse me, who are you?"

He gives you a narrowing look. "Taking names, huh? Going to sic the superintendent's police on me? Hah!"

In any community in America, if Mr. anticrat424 refused to identify himself, he would be ignored and frozen out of the civic problem-solving process. But on the Internet, Mr. anticrat424 is continually elevated to the podium, where he can have his angriest thoughts amplified through cyberspace as often as he wishes. He can call people the vilest names and that hate-mongering, too, will be amplified for all the world to see.

The problem is not that anticrat424 is anonymous, but that he is being a jerk. In a real town meeting, which is limited by law to the voters in a particular town, it is important to know that the folks debating the question set forth to the community are members of the community; they are going to be voting on the issue sometime that evening. But the value of much debate at town meeting is in what is said at the debate, and less by who says it. (When someone uses anonymity to shield a conflict of interest, then the debate is often much the worse for it, but conflicts of interest can and do exist all the time in venues where anonymity is impossible.)

The American polity, which is the basis for the town meeting that Grubisch so clearly loves, rests in no small part to the excellent arguments for the constitutional system set forth in The Federalist Papers. Was it really so awful that Hamilton, Madison, and Jay used the pseudonym Publius to write their persuasive essays? No, and therein lies the problem with the Internet nannies like Grubisch. Pseudonyms do not ruin constructive debate, but stupid debate tricks do. If the anticrat424s are hijacking your debate threads, go tell them to get their own soapboxes—there is no need to tell Publius to sod off as well.

What makes Grubisch's cranky essay so irritating is that the Washington Post, like almost every other major American newspaper, publishes a daily, unsigned, editorial column. While the editorial board of the Post is not anonymous, it is rare for the Post (or any newspaper) to report which editorial board members were responsible for a particular editorial, let alone report which members supported the stance of a particular editorial. How very ironic.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/15/2007 04:55:00 PM

10 May 2007

Uncharitable Foundation

I noticed today that ABC News reported that Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, was for abortion rights before she was against them. On the whole, the story tells me only that she shares her husband's amazing malleable political views.

But buried in the story was something that made me pay close attention.

[Campaign spokesman Kevin] Madden said a search of Romney campaign records unearthed only one donation the former governor had made to an abortion-related group: His foundation gave $15,000 in 2005 to Massachusetts Citizens for Life.

Thursday, Romney is scheduled to deliver a speech before that organization's Pioneer Valley chapter—the first speech of his presidential campaign to an anti-abortion rights group.

Ann and Mitt Romney have a private foundation called The Tyler Charitable Foundation; it is named after a street in their hometown of Belmont, Massachusetts. Private foundations are a subset of 501(c)(3) exempt organizations. Donations to them are tax-deductible, but they are subject to additional rules beyond those that apply to public charities. Private foundations pay small taxes on net investment income, and they are subject to additional excise taxes if they fail to meet minimum distribution thresholds. In recent years, the Tyler Foundation clears these thresholds easily. But they are also prohibited from doing some things that public charities can do to a certain extent, and one of those things is to lobby politicians of otherwise influence legislation.

In addition, private foundations are subject to excise taxes if they make donations to organizations that are not 501(c)(3) organizations unless very particular rules are followed:

A private foundation cannot make a grant for a purpose not described in section 170(c)(2)(B). Permitted purposes are religious, charitable, scientific, literary or educational, fostering national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of the activities involve providing athletic facilities or equipment), and preventing cruelty to children or animals. Section 501(c)(3) describes organizations that are organized and operated exclusively for these purposes. Grants for nonpermitted purposes are taxable expenditures.

Thus, a private foundation may not make a grant to an organization that is not described in section 501(c)(3) unless (1) making the grant itself is a direct charitable act or a program-related investment, or (2) the grantor is reasonably assured that the grant will be used exclusively for the purposes of an organization described here.

If a private foundation makes a grant that is not a transfer of assets to any organization (other than an organization described in section 501(c)(3) that is not exclusively organized and operated for testing for public safety), the grantor is reasonably assured that the grant will be used exclusively for section 170(c)(2)(B) purposes (described earlier) only if the grantee organization agrees to keep these funds in a separate fund dedicated to section 170(c)(2)(B) purposes. In addition, the grantor must comply with the expenditure responsibility requirements. [emphasis added]

The rules on taxable expenditures allow for penalties of both the foundation and the foundation's managers in most cases, and of loss of tax-exempt status in the worst cases.

These rules are relevant here because the ABC News article, as well as a New York Times article from March 2007 noted that the Tyler Foundation made grants to noncharitable organizations.

Last December, a foundation controlled by Mr. Romney made contributions of $10,000 to $15,000 to each of three Massachusetts organizations associated with major national conservative groups: the antiabortion Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Massachusetts Citizens for Limited Taxation and the Christian conservative Massachusetts Family Institute.

The Massachusetts Family Institute is a 501(c)(3) organization, but the other two groups are not. Massachusetts Citizens for Life is a 501(c)(4) organization. Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government is a bit harder to describe, because it does not have tax returns available at Guidestar.org. It does have a tax-exempt affiliate, Citizens' Economic Research Foundation, which has limited activity and very little in the way of donations. In an e-mail to me, Barbara Anderson, the executive director of CLTG explained that CLTG is not a federal tax-exempt entity at all, and that the Romney contribution indeed came to CLTG and not to CERF.

These laws are not mere technicalities. The federal government has a legitimate interest in ensuring that private foundations are not merely schemes to turn political or partisan expenditures into tax deductions. All 501(c)(3) organizations are allowed some leeway in their political stances: the Heritage Foundation's educational perspective is surely, and permissibly, very different from that of the Institute for Policy Studies. But the activities of 501(c)(4) and other noncharitable institutions can go far beyond this leeway.

Public charities, which by law must demonstrate that they have a broad range of donors, are allowed to engage in a fairly minimal amount of political activity every year. But private foundations, which often have only one or two donors, are not allowed this exception, lest foundations become merely huge loopholes for the politically-minded.

It would be odd for Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government and Massachusetts Families for Life to do charitable work, since they both are dedicated to political ends, and since there are charitable groups that do educational works along the same lines that would be logical recipients for charitable grants. Unless the Tyler Foundation took the quite unusual steps of making grants to two noncharitable organizations, ensured that the grants would nonetheless be used for charitable purposes, and also ensured that these organizations ensured that the funds would be separately held for charitable purposes, then the Tyler Foundation—and its managers, Ann and Willard Mitt Romney—have committed serious breaches of federal tax laws.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/10/2007 03:02:00 PM

09 May 2007

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Last year, I wondered why it took so long for President Bush to join his own call to Americans to establish and fund Health Savings Accounts—Bush had touted them at least since 2004 but waited until 2005 to fund his, and Vice President Cheney did not fund one in either 2004 or 2005. (I would certainly expect that Dick Cheney, whose medical conditions are varied and complicated, would certainly be a prime candidate for the best health care possible.)

Thanks to the helpful folks at the Tax History Project, the 2006 tax returns for George and Laura Bush and Dick and Lynne Cheney are now available. And somehow neither couple claimed an adjustment to income on Line 25 ("Health savings account deduction").

But what was President Bush saying about HSAs just last month, mere days before the files of his 2006 tax return?

I'm pleased to report that people have come to realize the benefits of health savings accounts, such as, one, health savings accounts are affordable for individuals and small businesses. In other words, if you're a small business owner and you're worried about providing good health care for your employees, you ought to look into a health savings account as a way to provide that benefit to your employees.

Secondly, health savings accounts enable a person to save, tax-free, for medical expenses. By making rational decisions about your life, you'll end up with more money in your health savings account, on a tax-free basis.

And thirdly, that savings account is something you can carry with you from job to job. A lot of people in America change jobs on a regular basis, and they are deeply concerned about whether or not they'll have a health care plan when they change jobs. And the health savings account enables you to carry your money that you've saved on a tax-free basis from one job to the next.

As the Old Man might have written, it is not for nothing that Bush talks so glowingly about the benefits of these accounts, yet does not use them in his own life. Perhaps they are more beneficial to the groups that offer them than they are to the masses who might be stuck with them.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/09/2007 01:29:00 PM

07 May 2007

Suckers Born Every Minute

Here is some proof that the New York Times advertising department will accept ads for almost anything. Not long ago, I noted that the sports section featured ads for a firm touting human growth hormone and testosterone as panaceas on the same pages that columnists decried the use of these substances by professional athletes.

In Sunday's business section, where Times columnists do the good work of shining light onto all sorts of dodgy investment schemes comes this advertisement:

Our Program of:
$2.75 billion to build 213 Unique Hospitals, and $0.54 billion to build 211 Invincibility Schools in 37 countries with highest income per capita.

PROPOSED FINANCING TERMS: 15 Year Loan with 10% Interest.

I did not need to consider this "investment" very long—the ad welcomes investor to direct questions to three doctors. One of them is John Hagelin, who would answer questions "regarding Scientific Research validating the projects."

Right. John Hagelin ran for president three times under the Natural Law Party banner. And considering that the party is an offshoot of the Transcendental Meditation movement, getting 84,000 votes to cast a ballot in your favor is no mean feat. But asking investors to throw money at the idea that a "unified field-based approach" to medicine makes both the Natural Law Party and yogic flying look sane.

(I wonder how long it will take Hagelin and company to squeeze money out of dupes by emphasizing that they were featured in the New York Times.)

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Posted by Tim W at 5/07/2007 12:37:00 AM

05 May 2007

What Did You Expect?

Atrios seems surprised that a news network owned by a big corporation would kowtow to other big corporations.

I think one of the most telling moments in Bill Moyers' Iraq/media show was this one.

WALTER ISAACSON: We'd put it on the air and by nature of a 24 hour TV network, it was replaying over and over again. So, you would get phone calls. You would get advertisers. You would get the Administration.

BILL MOYERS: You said pressure from advertisers?

WALTER ISAACSON: Not direct pressure from advertisers, but big people in corporations were calling up and saying, 'You're being anti-American here.'

So, "big people in corporations" get to call up CNN and tell them what they should be doing with their news coverage.

Why is comes as a surprise that capitalists would worry about the bottom line—and, by the logic that has run the stock market for years, about the stock price and therefore the value of their stock options—before they worried about the quality of a news operation should surprise no one at all.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/05/2007 11:09:00 PM


Once upon a time, I wondered why the Boston Globe employed second-rate columnists like Jeff Jacoby when the Boston area had smart academics who could certainly do a better job. Alas, I mentioned Harvey Mansfield by name. And now I know why the Globe might have been better off with Jacoby.

In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Mansfield explains why despotism is sometimes best.

Now the rule of law has two defects, each of which suggests the need for one-man rule. The first is that law is always imperfect by being universal, thus an average solution even in the best case, that is inferior to the living intelligence of a wise man on the spot, who can judge particular circumstances. This defect is discussed by Aristotle in the well-known passage in his "Politics" where he considers "whether it is more advantageous to be ruled by the best man or the best laws."

The other defect is that the law does not know how to make itself obeyed. Law assumes obedience, and as such seems oblivious to resistance to the law by the "governed," as if it were enough to require criminals to turn themselves in. No, the law must be "enforced," as we say. There must be police, and the rulers over the police must use energy (Alexander Hamilton's term) in addition to reason. It is a delusion to believe that governments can have energy without ever resorting to the use of force.

The best source of energy turns out to be the same as the best source of reason--one man. One man, or, to use Machiavelli's expression, uno solo, will be the greatest source of energy if he regards it as necessary to maintaining his own rule. Such a person will have the greatest incentive to be watchful, and to be both cruel and merciful in correct contrast and proportion. We are talking about Machiavelli's prince, the man whom in apparently unguarded moments he called a tyrant.

The problem with thinkers like Mansfield is not that they are inherently indisposed against Democrats, but that the are inherently indisposed against democracy.

Few writers who seriously consider the dictatorship of the proletariat to be a useful model for contemporary American politics get taken seriously by anything approximating an important segment of the press. But their right-wing counterparts are somehow respected, whether they write wistfully of despotism like Mansfield or pine for a military coup like Thomas Sowell.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/05/2007 10:53:00 PM

Truth and Consequences

In the United States, too many pundits regard the thoroughly unpopular politician behind a disastrous war as somehow being popular.

In Israel, by contrast, the unpopular politician behind a war that was not quite so disastrous is indeed considered unpopular.

The young mixed with the old. But they all agreed on one thing - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert must go.

In Tel Aviv's Rabin Square tens of thousands of Israelis gathered on Thursday night in a show of people power to maintain the pressure on the deeply unpopular Mr Olmert.

Even by Israeli standards, Mr Olmert has suffered a bruising few days in politics.

An interim report published on Monday into the government's handling of last summer's war in Lebanon heaped criticism upon the prime minister.

One key difference is that in Israel, when a government commission investigates the government, the commission is not packed with friends of the government who will bend over backwards to avoid criticizing it.

(Another difference, of course, is that in Israel, criticism of the Israeli government is considered to be both patriotic and rational. In the United States, criticism of the Israeli government is somehow almost always considered to be neither of those, and criticism of the American government is often considered to be at least unpatriotic.)

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Posted by Tim W at 5/05/2007 04:09:00 PM

04 May 2007

Those Liberal Think Tanks

Avedon Carol notes that the idea that the Brookings Institution is some sort of haven for left-wingers is more than a little daft. (She is referring to Jonathan Chait's article on liberal blogs in a recent New Republic.)

Let's get this straight: Brookings is "liberal" only in the sense that it conforms to the basic American ideal of a nation whose leaders are elected by the general populace to serve the general populace; that is, it is not trying to overthrow our form of government. It is by charter non-partisan and non ideological within the context of American government. Only if you accept that overthrowing our form of government is "conservatism" can you call them "liberal".

But Brookings is a think tank, by which I mean it does real research and formulates policy based on what is known or hoped to work.

This is very true. But I must note that there was a time—not too long ago—when the Brookings Institution was unafraid to point out that the left wing of American politics was right on many points. To its credit, Brookings has not repudiated what it did, but what it does nowadays along those ends is often limited to continuing to keep some of its backlist on print.

  • In 1985, Brookings published Raymond Garthoff's Detente and Confontation, which took a contrarian view of US-Soviet relations, and then published a revised edition in 1994.
  • In 1989, Martin Binkin and William Kaufmann wrote a tract on the US Army National Guard and Reserve. The authors wondered about the effects of relying more and more on Guard and Reserve in future conflicts.
  • In 1987, Brookings published two books by William Kaufmann that tore to shreds the Reagan administration's defense budget in general (A Reasonable Defense) and naval strategy in general (A Thoroughly Efficient Navy). Endemic to these studies were findings that the peculiarities of defense budgeting rewarded planners for buying weapons programs and undermanning forces.
  • And in 1990, Brookings published Kaufmann's Glasnost, Perestroika, and US Defense Spending, which argued that wholesale changes in the Soviet Union meant that the US could cut its defense spending in half by 1995.

Kaufmann and his collaborators were right about the bloated defense budgets of the 1980s and 1990s. Yet today, Brookings issues analyzes of defense budgets that call for measly cuts through incremental improvements in existing procedures. And the Senior Fellow for Foreign Policy Studies, Michael O'Hanlon, is prone to such worthy left-leaning activities as arguing in the Washington Times that it is far too early to leave Iraq, lest the "thugs and ruthless killers" win.

I can see why some might think that the Brookings Institution was liberal in the 1980s and 1990s, but it is hard to see it that way now.

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Posted by Tim W at 5/04/2007 03:24:00 PM

01 May 2007

Operating Thetan

Why, one might wonder, why was necessary to invent Scientology? At K Marx the Spot World Headquarters, we suspect that it might have been necessary to make Mormonism look relatively plausible. (After all, when a tenet of your religion is that men get to be gods of their own planets someday, it would only make sense to encourage a religion in which hydrogen bombs are a key part of the creation myth.

So, it comes as no surprise to us that Willard Mitt Romney said such nice things about L. Ron Hubbard's famously awful novel Battlefield Earth.

This makes Bush's "my favorite philosopher is Jesus" answer look positively Lincoln-esque:

When asked his favorite novel in an interview shown yesterday on the Fox News Channel, Mitt Romney pointed to "Battlefield Earth," a novel by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. That book was turned into a film by John Travolta, a Scientologist.

A Romney rep has since pointed out that it's one of the governor's favorites: "He said Huck Finn was his favorite and has also said everything from Theodore Rex to Looming Tower are also good books." What's more, says spokesguy, "It's just a book."

Ask L. Ron Hubbard if it's "just a book."

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Posted by Tim W at 5/01/2007 09:55:00 PM

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