Drum on the debate over social spending

In the midst of an authoritative post about the tax burden on Americans over history, Kevin makes this key point:

Social Security and Medicare are expensive programs, and we should have a national debate about their future. The current round of tax cuts is part of that debate, but their impact is being obscured by tax cut zealots who are deliberately trying to create a crisis atmosphere in which it's "obvious" that we can't continue to fund these programs.

But we can. Repeal the Bush tax cuts and agree to a tax increase of 1% a year for the next 30 years and we can do it. If you don't think that's worth it, fine. Make your argument. But in any case, let's argue honestly and may the best argument win.

The problem is that there is no interest in a true debate with an eye towards finding the optimum course of policy. The true goal is maintenance of power. If there was any true concern for the country operating here then the GOP wouldn't have pulled a 180 on having deficits between now and the Contract with America.

Scalzi on the Bush tax cuts

John's post is so brilliant and inspired that I need to excerpt some of it for posterity.

If it's to boost the economy, why does the working guy get nothing?

Yes, yes, I know -- more money back to the people so they can boost the economy, blah blah blah. But let's not lie and say this most recent tax cut is about the people, okay? I mean, yes -- if we really want to help the working guy, let's slash his taxes by more than a measly one or two percentage points and a few hundred dollars and avoid giving the rich double that in percentages and of course multiples of that in dollars. Throwing the working guy pennies while the wealthy are rolling out wheelbarrows of cash isn't my idea of a smart thing to do. Hell, even Warren Buffett thought the details of the most recent tax cut proposals were appaling. In the story referenced there, Senator Charles Grassley says that Buffett doesn't have any appreciation for the trials of the middle class, which is (excuse the pun) rich, since Buffett was suggesting giving the middle class much more of a tax break than the budget Grassley was pushing. And anyway, when it comes to money, who should you believe: They guy who invested his way to being worth $36 billion, or the guy with the government paycheck?

The GOP as the party of fiscal insanity:

There are many things I don't like about the Republican Party, but one of the things that galls me the most is how it's demonized taxation, and how it's consistently run deficits since Reagan and yet manages somehow to position itself as the party of fiscal responsibility. Yes, there is a point of too much taxation, and at times in our past we've been there, and it was not at all a bad thing for the GOP to point that out. Good on it. Now isn't one of those times, and even if it were, the rich would not be the people I'd focus the cuts upon. The answer to everything is not "tax cuts."
To be entirely honest about it, I lump people who believe that Republicans are fiscally responsible in with the people who believe in astrology and that the Earth was created in six days, in that whatever other positive qualities they might have, they have a fundamental defect in their ability to process reality. Mind you, this does not mean I expect Democrats to be correspondingly fiscally sound. That's a false opposition. But honestly, people. We have a three administration track record of Republicans gulping down debt like they're dipsomaniac sorority girls at Free Margarita Night, and then calling for yet another round of tax cuts. How much more evidence do you need?

On why taxation matters:

Call me crazy, but I expect a certain level of government service. It's not dizzingly high, but it's there. I'm comfortable with funding a certain number of things I don't necessarily agree with with my tax dollars in order to get certain services others might not agree with. I'm comfortable spending money on services I don't need to use personally -- welfare, unemployment, the military -- because I think they provide for a better quality of life for my fellow citizens at large. And for all of that, I'm willing to pay a fair amount, and the emphasis here is on "fair." I don't want to pay more than is necessary, and I want to make sure what's being spent is accounted for -- I remember reading recently that Pentagon accountants don't know where a trillion dollars they were given went, and that's just no good -- but for the quality of life and government services I expect, yes, I'll pay my taxes. Happily.
I like the idea that some of the money I send to my government goes to keep a library open in the little town I live in. I like the idea that somewhere in my little town, a kid who'd otherwise go hungry is eating dinner bought with food stamps that I paid for. I like the idea that a sailor on an aircraft carrier goes on shore leave with money I put in his pocket. I like the idea that people are researching diseases and robots are exploring space with money I chipped in to pay for them. As I mentioned, there are lots of things our government is doing with my money I wish it wouldn't do, but that's the trade-off and overall I think the balance is worth it.

All of that stuff takes money. That money comes from me. I accept the responsibility of paying that money. More of that money comes from me than from the average taxpayer. And I say, I don't need any more tax cuts. I need a government that can pay for what I want it to do without chronically shifting the financial burden of its existence on to my kid.

taxation subsidizes wealth

John Scalzi has one of the best rants about the sheer absurdity of the Bush tax cuts that I've read - far better than my own frustrated rant.

The bottom line is that these tax cuts are fiscally irresponsible. (Financial Times, "US 'faces future of chronic deficits'", 5/29/03). John makes a compelling and passionate argument that deserves to be read in its entirety.

The common argument by the principled right (whose existence i don't doubt, though Matthew does ask the reasonable question, where the hell are they?) is that government spending is axiomatically bad, counter to the Founder's ideals, etc. But the truth is that government has been teh catalyst for growth. If you want to see a world of unbridled capitalism and small, meek government, cast your gaze to the era of Tamany Hall or Teddy Roosevelt. Not even the most iron-hearted conservative today would argue that short life expectancies, rampant public diseases, child labor, sweatshops, dirt roads, inadequate sewage systems, polluted water, debilitating old age, etc were Good Things. It's taxation that has conquered all of these terrible things, and that has freed the potential of American capitalism and American People to go on to build even greater wealth.

The Progressive Agenda may not have even had form in the Founders' Time. That was because the much more basic issue was freedom. "Live free or die" is more than just a phrase, it's the essence of what the Founders sought to achieve. That battle has been won against Britain, but what about against our own darker natures? To categorically lump all Progressive idology as "anti-Founder" is a rhetorical deus ex machina - The Gods Disapprove, according to these self-styled Prophets of American Freedom. Who gave them any more right than myself to divine what the purpose of freedom is? To live like dogs under the thumb of a ruling superclass?

Denying that government taxation funds a great empowerment of the common citizen is to wish a return back to Tamany Hall and the Robber Barons and aristocratic classes. Could the great American entrepeneurial successes of the 20th Century - Microsoft, Fed Ex, AOL, Qualcomm - have occurred in such a climate? No, because without government improving the quality of life for the average citizen, those great visionaries would never have had the resources, education, or simple good health to pursue their vision.

Taxation - and government spending - is the lifeblood of our society. Every billionaire in this country owes a huge part of their success to the atmosphere of entrepeneurship which this country is built on. That atmosphere does not exist except to the priveleged few in a world where government is prevented from acting on behalf of the common man.

This is the central truth of why America is so successful and powerful. Because every man woman and child has the true ability to achieve their dreams. And it happened because of taxation. And it is threatened by these tax cust that are now law. What sacrifice have we made from the pool of our children's potential?

Government services are the Commons, and the tax cuts are the Tragedy.


pleasing lies vs unpleasant truths

via Billmon:

Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. -- Dick Cheney, August 26, 2002

Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons. -- George W. Bush, September 12, 2002

If he declares he has none, then we will know that Saddam Hussein is once again misleading the world. -- Ari Fleischer, December 2, 2002

We know for a fact that there are weapons there. -- Ari Fleischer, January 9, 2003

Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent. -- George W. Bush, January 28, 2003

We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more. -- Colin Powell, February 5, 2003

We have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons -- the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have. -- George Bush , February 8, 2003

So has the strategic decision been made to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction by the leadership in Baghdad? I think our judgment has to be clearly not. -- Colin Powell, March 8, 2003

Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. -- George Bush, March 17, 2003

Well, there is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly . . . all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes. -- Ari Fleisher, March 21, 2003

There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction. As this operation continues, those weapons will be identified, found, along with the people who have produced them and who guard them. -- Gen. Tommy Franks, March 22, 2003

I have no doubt we're going to find big stores of weapons of mass destruction. -- Defense Policy Board member Kenneth Adelman, March 23, 2003

One of our top objectives is to find and destroy the WMD. There are a number of sites. -- Pentagon Spokeswoman Victoria Clark, March 22, 2003

We know where they are. They are in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad. -- Donald Rumsfeld, March 30, 2003

Obviously the administration intends to publicize all the weapons of mass destruction U.S. forces find -- and there will be plenty. -- Neocon scholar Robert Kagan, April 9, 2003

I think you have always heard, and you continue to hear from officials, a measure of high confidence that, indeed, the weapons of mass destruction will be found. -- Ari Fleischer, April 10, 2003

We are learning more as we interrogate or have discussions with Iraqi scientists and people within the Iraqi structure, that perhaps he destroyed some, perhaps he dispersed some. And so we will find them. -- George Bush, April 24, 2003

There are people who in large measure have information that we need . . . so that we can track down the weapons of mass destruction in that country. -- Donald Rumsfeld, April 25, 2003

We'll find them. It'll be a matter of time to do so. -- George Bush, May 3, 2003

I am confident that we will find evidence that makes it clear he had weapons of mass destruction. -- Colin Powell, May 4, 2003

I never believed that we'd just tumble over weapons of mass destruction in that country. -- Donald Rumsfeld, May 4, 2003

I'm not surprised if we begin to uncover the weapons program of Saddam Hussein -- because he had a weapons program. -- George W. Bush, May 6, 2003

U.S. officials never expected that "we were going to open garages and find" weapons of mass destruction. -- Condoleeza Rice, May 12, 2003

I just don't know whether it was all destroyed years ago -- I mean, there's no question that there were chemical weapons years ago -- whether they were destroyed right before the war, (or) whether they're still hidden. -- Maj. Gen. David Petraeus (Commander 101st Airborne), May 13, 2003

Before the war, there's no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical. I expected them to be found. I still expect them to be found. -- Gen. Michael Hagee, Commandant of the Marine Corps, May 21, 2003

Given time, given the number of prisoners now that we're interrogating, I'm confident that we're going to find weapons of mass destruction. -- Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, May 26, 2003

They may have had time to destroy them, and I don't know the answer. -- Donald Rumsfeld, May 27, 2003

For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction (as justification for invading Iraq) because it was the one reason everyone could agree on. -- Paul Wolfowitz, May 28, 2003

A year ago, Steven Den Beste asked, "Do you prefer pleasing falsehoods or unpleasant truths?" ... I find the question rather ironic.

political martyrs

Joshua Marshall has posted one of the most important posts he has ever written on his TPM blog. It nicely sumarizes and puts into context the emerging self-interested critiques of Blumenthal's new book, The Clinton Wars. He nicely parries Michael Isikoff's clumsy attempt at portraying Blumenthal as acgting out of self-interest, for example - speaking from the perspective of a Washington insider who knows the backstory.

But the meat of his point is that the reason Blumenthal's book has attracted so much negative attention by the media is NOT because of GOP or partisan resistance or even the Mighty Wurlitzer:

Blumenthal's book is a harsh and incisive critique of Washington's insider culture and its prestige press corps which is -- as a group, if not individually -- corrupt, rudderless and often insipid.
The essential question about the 1990s is whether the scandals were principally a matter of Clintonian wrongdoing or his critics' concerted opposition and resistance to his presidency using every, and often the lowest possible, means available. Mix in of course a lot of what Richard Hofstadter called 'the paranoid style.' Blumenthal picked choice #2. And, to my mind, he's been vindicated on that choice again and again.

Setting aside the truly egregious examples like Sue Schmidt of the Washington Post, most journalists who covered this case either had no sense of the larger context of what was happening, or didn't care. Often it was both, but more often the former. They were following a cookie-cutter script in which the prosecutors are the good guys and they eventually unearth a president's vile misdeeds and bring him down in a mawkish morality play. To them, the whole melange of alleged scandals had no larger political context. It was just the Clintons being accused of this or that -- the only larger meaning being how the First Couple supposedly represented various sorts of psychological and sociological maladies. The fact that few if any of the 'charges' ever held up under scrutiny didn't matter all that much since the whole drama spawned by the antic accusations and defenses could be written off, as it were, as a charge against the psychological and sociological maladies ledger.

This has much less to do with media bias than with the conversion of our media into a vehicle for entertainment rather than journalism. I've blogged about the failure of the Fourth Estate before and I started this blog and the mailing list as my own personal attempts to counter that trend for my own benefit.

On the matter of Clinton - he disappointed me. I believed he was innocent of the Lewinsky thing until that night in August 1998 when he finally admitted to it. I heard his admission on theradio as I was driving on I-90, having just left my job in Boston and headed to Houston for grad school. I never will forgive Clinton for his conduct but I am able to separate his personal faults from his record as President, and I still feel he was among the best Presidents that this country ever had. And he still has that visionary intellectual understanding of the role that America plays in human history and how our society is evolving - his recent comments at the University of Arkansas were compelling and a rigorous, and as always a catalyst for debate and honest appraisal about the choices our society makes and just how critical a role the media and the punditocracy play in shaping those choices.

Hehe, the prodigal political rockstar. BTW, the 22nd Amendment doesn't say anything about serving as Veep.




Trapped on the other side of the country aboard Air Force One, the President has lost his cool: "If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me! I'll be at home! Waiting for the bastard!"

His Secret Service chief seems taken aback. "But Mr. President . . ."

The President brusquely interrupts him. "Try Commander-in-Chief. Whose present command is: Take the President home!"

Was this George W. Bush's moment of resolve on Sept. 11, 2001? Well, not exactly. Actually, the scene took place this month, on a Toronto sound stage.

The histrionics, filmed for a two-hour television movie to be broadcast this September, are as close as you can get to an official White House account of its activities at the outset of the war on terrorism.


A copy of the script obtained by The Globe and Mail reveals a prime-time drama starring a nearly infallible, heroic president with little or no dissension in his ranks and a penchant for delivering articulate, stirring, off-the-cuff addresses to colleagues.

I can't wait for The Onion to notice this one.

Bizarro Blogsphere

Glenn Reynolds has ditched Moveable Type and moved to Blogger.com. OK, it's actually because Hosting Matters had a fire in their NOC, but there's a kind of irony operating here, especially given the recent mass exodus. I bet those Blogger archive errors don't seem nearly as annoying to those of us still on Blogspot, now!


The Niqabi Paralegal

Al-Muhabajah has a new blog called "The Niqabi Paralegal" which focuses on legal issues of interest to Muslims (especially in America). She has started out by focusing on legal aspects of the Sultana Freeman case, unearthing all sorts of fascinating and relevant case history, such as the fact that the US Supreme Court, responding to the argument that driving is a privelege, not a right, ruled in the case of Sherbert vs Verner that "It is too late in the day to doubt that the liberties of religion and expression may be infringed by the denial of or placing of conditions upon a benefit or privilege". I stand partially corrected.

She also found the case of Bureau of Motor Vehicles of The State of Indiana v. Pentecostal House of Prayer, Inc, (1978). which had a Christian who believed that photographs were graven images and didn't want a photo driver's license. The Indiana Supreme Court upheld this right.

AM also has a separate post devoted to the current status of state law in regard to non-photo drivers' licenses and one about religious relevance. Overall, my argument against Freeman's wish to wear the veil for the photo is ultimately grounded in Islam and still stands. If the court rules that the photo ID is indeed for identification and not for licensing, then she has to make the religious decision not to drive. But she can mount a credible argument that it shouldn't be considered ID. Regradless, I still have to think through this issue a lot more, as AM's research has really brought a lot of facts to the surface that are directly relevant and require some consideration.


Islam is Freedom

Matthew points to an interesting poll which suggests people in Islamic countries are more in favor of democracy than we in America and the UK. I think that this speaks more about the universal desire of human beings for freedom they don't have rather than any particular insight into Islam. Remember that in places like Bangladesh, "democracy" is synonmous with America in a semantic sense, and America is synonymous with the images of wealth and luxury and power that even the poorest slum residents see on Star TV.

But there is indeed a direct link between Islam and democracy, a positive one whose authority comes straight from the Qur'an itself. I've previously discussed this in the context of Iran and the struggle for freedom from the theocracts there - the essence is understanding that religious freedom is essential to Islam. Freedom of religion is enshrined in Ayat 2:256, which states that "there is no compulsion in religion."

In fact the Islamic argument against imposition of religious belief stems from the same philosophical root as the idea that proving the existence of God is counter to religion's self interest - both deny deny faith. If I oonly pray or wear a beard because of fear of the religious police, then what value is my religious action? Absolutely zero. You cannot be compelled to faith, it must call you to it of your own free will. And free will is the highest faculty of Man, the sole gift of God.

british comedy

British comedy has always had a darker theme to it. Its overwhelmingly about the common man fighting against the viccissitudes of fate (and usually losing). Possibly the greatest example if Foot in the Grave which if you haven't seen, defies explanantion of its appeal. That didn't stop Bill Cosby from using it as the inspiration for his anti-The Cosby Show show, "Cosby". Which also, if you haven't seen, defies explanantion for its appeal (Though the dream sequence about a world where high school teachers occupy the social strata of superstar athletes is notable).

I see a reflection of British comedy in the situation regarding Britain's joining the EU. The EU is a masively centralized supra-national body[1] that is the antithesis of the idea that local government bodies know what is best for their constituents. We can have a good flamewar about the EU later - but the actual goodness or badness of the EU is not strictly relevant to my point.

That point is, Blair wants the decision of whether to join to be done by an act of Parliament. To understand why this should creep you out, consider the process by which such a decision would be made in America (best explained by SDB, as usual):

If there were, for instance, a proposal to form some sort of Pan-American Union (with government in Brasilia) and the United States were considering whether to give up its sovereignty and to become part of a larger hemispheric meta-nation, then Congress and the President could not carry out such a thing merely by passing laws. They'd have to pass an amendment and propose it to the state legislatures, and three quarters of them would have to ratify it.

And that is as it should be. For a decision that big, that important, that critical, it should not be left to a small number of leaders to decide. We cannot permit 536 people to end the history of our nation. The real debate about it would take place in the individual states, where the state legislators are far closer to and more attuned to the opinions of individual voters. In a decision this momentous, the decision ultimately must be made by the voters themselves. There would not be any kind of national referendum about it as such; there's no constitutional provision for such a thing. But as a practical matter, the legislatures would express the will of the people of their states.

It seems likely that given the UK public's poverwhelming opposition to joining the UK, if there were such a similar process, the proposal would fail. Worse, that seems to be Blair's prime reason for not wanting the general public involved. Ultimately the decision to end Britain would be carried out not by the millions of Britons expressing their will, but rather a few hundred people in a legislative body that sees itself in a legal perspective as ruling the common man, not serving them.

Former Prime Minister John Major, considered a conservative by Britons by over here in America would actually be a moderate Democratic with Libertarian leanings, has an important op-ed in The Spectator arguing against the decision to grant Parliament the authority for the decision to join the UK.

In fact John Major has argued in favor of a pet theory of mine, that Britain would be better served by joining NAFTA than the EU. I wonder how the people of the UK would vote were that to be a referendum? Given the nature of British Freedom (ie, a privelege, not a right), it seems unlikely we will ever know.

[1] It's worth pointing out that the entire EU would occupy the same hierarchical level as the United States, because the individual states in America are ultimately more sovereign than the EU member countries are within the Federal umbrella. This amounts to a "demotion" of status for member countries, from "nations" to "states".


fiscal dishonesty

We have all heard the refrain. "I'm socially liberal and economically conservative." And then the inevitable punchline, "That's why I vote for the GOP."

For those folks who say that - including the punchline - this is kind of like a statement of religios zeal. of course the GOP is better with my money. It's the political equivalent to the Muslim shahada (oath of belief): "There is no god but Tax Cuts, and the GOP is his Prophet"

For those who profess the GOP shahada, trying to point out the inherent contradictions is a fool's errand. "We want smaller government" they say, while the federal discretionary (non-military) spending grows faster under GOP congresses and presidents. "We want tax relief for working families" they say, while the tax cuts flow to the top 1% (and notice how these supposed populists never mention cutting payroll taxes?)."We think social services are a huge waste of taxpayer money" they say, while the uninsured consume the county budgets and the states deal with massive unfunded mandates.

It used to be that conservatives thought deficits were a bad thing. Remember the Contract with America and the Federal Budget Amendment?

But we need to be clear about what direction we are heading. And RonK DailyKos has a fantastic series on just why the looming deficit matters. First, he puts the estimated debt ($10 TRILLION dollars) in some perspective. In part 2, he addresses all the "It's no big deal" arguments that are now being pushed out by so called fiscal conservatives. To his credit, he does acknowledge the kernels of truth each such claim, but goes on to demonstrate why that is always only half the picture:

First, it's no big deal because we never have to pay it back. True, in a way.

An individual ages and dies. A business eventually fails, no matter how magnificently it succeeds. If one owes you money, you want money back in finite time. A nation, however, has perpetual assets and income streams. Creditors come and go, their IOU's paid with proceeds of new IOUs sold on the open market.

But ... but ... BUT ... borrowing capacity is limited, because lending capacity is limited ... because interest expense mounts up ... and because lenders will start imposing incrementally harsher terms long before the borrow-from-Peter-to-pay-Paul pyramid crashes. Nobody wants to be last in line when they run out of Free Lunch.

It's no big deal because we can handle the payments. True, for now. In a $10T economy, interest on a $10T debt is a bearable 4% tax burden on aggregate GDP. (The percentage rate burden on taxable income higher, since TI is a subset of GDP.)

But ... but ... BUT ... the current sweet spot is a fool's paradise. The global economy may recover -- in which case interest rates will rise markedly. Or the global economy may stay depressed -- in which case our revenue projections are unrealistic. (Tax receipts will fall below forecast ... debt will accumulate faster ... and the expected lending pools of surplus private assets may evaporate.)

It's no big deal because the economy will grow and leave the debt behind. That's the normal scheme of things. Economies grow ... it's their nature. It makes sense to live in houses and drive cars we haven't paid off yet. It makes sense to finance public works that deliver decades of useful life. Run up debt in a $10T economy, pay it back out of petty cash in a $100T economy.

But ... but ... BUT ... the debt today is growing faster than the economy, and it is structured to keep doing so. Economies don't grow that fast ... it's not their nature. The tax-cutters aren't done yet, they're not making the kind of public investments that facilitate economic growth, and the Baby Boomers are inching closer to retirement. [Remember, just three years ago we had plans to pay off the entire national debt to position ourselves for this predictable strain.] At some point a combination of lender reluctance and taxpayer resistance will stop the game.

[Did somebody say it's no big deal because the cuts will pay for themselves? Forget it. No if's, and's or but's. No legitimate model -- no matter how dynamic -- produces any such result. No reputable economist -- left, right, center or future -- states any such case. You probably thought they said it in Reagan's time, but -- as Laffer himself points out -- none ever did. It was all clever juxtaposition and parsing. You won't hear it now, except from political operatives who can't be held accountable. The dissonance is probably why they just moved the Council of Economic Advisors out of the White House.]

It's no big deal because we owe it to ourselves. True up to a point. For every dollar in national debt there's a corresponding dollar in US bonds or other IOUs. Somebody owns that IOU, and they get a dollar back -- with interest -- when it's paid off. But ... but ... BUT ...

(1) The somebody who holds the IOUs matching your $100K (average household) share of the fiscal fiasco is probably not you. You might have a few hundred dollars in savings bonds, or hold US debt indirectly via a money-market account. "Somebody" owns millions ... probably somebody who got rich(er) by virtue of unrealistically low, debt-subsidized taxe rates. Even if you own nada, you get taxed (for the rest of your life) to redeem all of somebody's IOUs.

Paying the piper means a massive tax-mediated net transfer of wealth from the many to the few.

(2) That somebody doesn't necessarily pay taxes anyway. Bonds are held extensively in tax-deferred or tax-exempt trusts, nonprofit endowments, insurance reserve accounts, pension plans, government agency accounts.

Paying the piper means taxpayers do all the giving ... but less than half the getting.

(3) Somebody isn't necessarily one of us. Foreigners save, lending us their surplus ... so American consumers can live beyond their means, corporations can leverage their earnings, and politicians can spend without taxing. Our economy -- bathed in a gentle rain of "free" money -- is less prosperous than it looks, to the tune of several hundred billion dollars a year. After a while it adds up.

Paying the piper means American taxpayers give, and foreign creditors get ... even the (shudder) French. Think of it as a Louisiana Purchase in reverse.

I think there's two simple explanations for why people are so willing to profess the GOP shahada. One is Daniel Davies' exegesis of conservative philosophy (ably summarized by Bradford DeLong). The other is a certain quote by PT Barnum, which I think is well-known enough to not require repeating.

judgement by your peers

Dwight Meredith points out that George W. Bush's stated beliefs about juries are hypocrisy incarnate:

While Governor of Texas, Mr. Bush showed an abiding faith in the unerring accuracy of jury decisions in death penalty cases. While Governor more than 130 death penalty cases came before the Governor. He granted a reprieve in exactly one case. Mr. Bush has said that he is "confident that every case that has come across my desk -- I'm confident of the guilt of the person who committed the crime."
Mr. Bush has said that poor jury decisions are �devastating the practice of medicine� and ruining many an �honest business.�
My experience is with civil juries. That experience convinces me that juries almost always make good decisions. I have yet to try an important civil case in which the defense lawyer slept through the trial, failed to interview witnesses or failed to present crucial evidence.

A person whose experience is only on the criminal side could feel differently. Overworked and underpaid lawyers without the resources to investigate, prepare and present a case may not give juries the information needed to make an accurate decision. That increases the likelihood of jury error.

George Bush�s blind faith in the inerrancy of death penalty juries combined with his distrust of civil juries is perverse.

Dwight has a lot more detail about the specifics of why the distinction between civil juries and death penalty juries is not only innappropriate, but actually even backwards.


the GOP Golden Age

Andrew Sullivan is on the political equivalent of the Road to Damascus. First he receives and analyses an email that boasts of the true reason why Deficits are Good

GW's real job, like Reagan before him, is to ensure that all the money is spent, that when a Dem takes office, 33 percent or more is paying off debt. This is called preemptive handcuffs. It isn't my idea. It is David Stockman's. No money to spend when Dems are in office. You are being childish. The only rationale for fiscal responsibility NOW is if you want there to be $ for Dems to spend later.

Give the guy points for candor. But the result of this repetitive, partisan strategy is surely an increasing level of government debt, which doesn't only restrict future spending, but restricts future tax cuts. I hate to bring up the national interest here, as opposed to cheap partisan advantage.

I find the notion that the GOP ever had the national interest at heart to be astonishingly innocent. I'd sooner believe that Sullivan is feigning amazement and is positioning himself for a party switch than I would that he is shocked, SHOCKED to find that teh GOP cares about power and nothing else.

He goes on to write:

I'm all in favor of tax cuts. I think Americans are over-taxed; I believe that individuals can make far smarter decisions about where the country's wealth should be spent than government usually does; I'm particularly persuaded that tax rates in particular should encourage work not redistribution. Where I differ from others is in their belief that deficits don't matter; that government debt is no problem; and that drastically increasing that debt just before the entitlement crunch hits is good politics or economics. I think we need to decrease spending while we decrease taxes. At the very least, I think we should hold a line on spending while we decrease taxes. What I cannot support is vastly increasing spending while you cut taxes. Call me crazy, but I regard this as a question of responsibility. We have a responsibility not to leave the next generation in a huge hole of our making. At this point, it's clear that the Republican party, at all levels, is simply fiscally irresponsible. This is true at the federal level, where Republicans have out-spent Democrats; and at a state level, as this USA Today synopsis spells out.
The Democrats aren't worse. They're actually better at controlling spending than today's Republicans. True fiscal conservatives might want to rethink their long-standing preference for Republicans.

Maybe Andrew has been secretly reading Dwight Meredith? I'd like to note that Sullivan has stated earlier that he's a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. This isn't irony, it's either obtuseness or disingenious positioning. Regardless, Sullivan hasn't let his own words stop his hypocrisy before. But these comments are certainly worth bookmarking as the GOP brings this nation to ruin.

UPDATE: Sullivan, with his newfound respect for the good of the Nation, might also want to consider Tapped's superb capsule summary of the GOP agenda:

First off, independent analyses put the true cost of the cut at $800 billion dollars or more. (The New York Times' David E. Rosenbaum rightly describes the $320 billion price tag as "artificial.") That blows a huge whole in the budget, as intended, and gets us further down the road toward bankrupting Medicare and Social Security, creating pressure to privatize both programs.

Second, tax cuts are good politics for the GOP. Cutting taxes has replaced fighting communists as the glue of the party. Everyone in the GOP can agree about tax cuts, which is why the White House plans to keep cutting taxes every year Bush is in office -- it keeps everyone rowing in the same direction instead of fighting about things over which they disagree. We could have spent the last few months discussing the hundreds of thousands of jobs this country is losing. We could have spent the last few months talking about health care. We could even have been talking about abortion. None of those issues are really good for the GOP. But instead, we've spent most of that time talking about tax cuts.

To what end? staying in power. This is the GOP Golden Age - the pre-eminence of political success. But at what cost? Krugman points to Japan as a cautionary tale:

The Bush administration is, of course, notably unconcerned about deficits. Aren't the tax cuts in the pipeline exactly what the economy needs? Alas, no. Despite their huge size � if you ignore the gimmicks, the latest round will cost at least $800 billion over the next decade � they pump relatively little money into the economy now, when it needs it. Moreover, the tax cuts flow mainly to the very, very affluent � the people least likely to spend their windfall.

Meanwhile, state and local governments, which are not allowed to run deficits � we have our own version of the stability pact � are slashing spending and raising taxes. And both the spending cuts and the tax increases will fall mainly on the most vulnerable, people who cannot make up the difference by drawing on existing savings. The result is that the economic downdraft from state cutbacks (only slightly alleviated by the paltry aid contained in the new tax bill) will almost certainly be stronger than any boost from federal tax cuts.

In short, those of us who worry about a Japanese-style quagmire find the global picture pretty scary. Policymakers are preoccupied with their usual agendas; outside the Fed, none of them seem to understand what may be at stake.

It's even larger than merely the economy's health at stake, however. American supremacy - military, social, economic - is built upon that foundation, which Bush is determined to undermine for political gain. If we do indeed get caught in a liquidity trap like Japan, this will affect our position as the sole superpower. It puts America's security at risk as well as its prosperity. The Krugman article is probably the single most important one to read today.


neo-wilsonianism personified

from Howard Dean's interview with truthout.org:

What Bush is doing in Afghanistan is a huge problem, and bodes very ill for what is going to happen in Iraq. The President has taken his eye off the ball in Afghanistan. I supported the invasion of Afghanistan and the elimination of the Taliban. I thought that group was a clear and present danger to the United States, and I supported what the President did. However, there's no follow-up. The best defense policy we could have in this country is not just to have a strong military, but it is to build middle-class nations with strong democratic ideals, where women fully participate in the government. Those countries don't go to war with each other, and they don't harbor groups like al Qaeda.

We're not doing that in Afghanistan. We're making deals with corrupt and crooked and undemocratic warlords in order to pacify Afghanistan. That is exactly the mistake the United States always makes. The notion of 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend' is a huge mistake, and this administration is doing that. If they do that in Iraq, we're going to end up with an enormous problem, as we may well have in Afghanistan if the President doesn't add more peacekeeping people. The irony of this is that all the nations the President insulted before going to war in Iraq are the people we need now. We need more troops, which means we need NATO and the United Nations to get involved in rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq in a meaningful way. It has nothing to do with being nice to the French and the Germans. It has to do with protecting our soldiers who are going to be seen more and more every day as an occupiers and less as liberators.

I could have written these words myself. This is the neo-wilsonian "domino" theory and I think it makes a lot more sense than the neo-conservative one. The point is that the neocon domino theory relies too much on dominator methodology. Though both domino theories desire teh same end goal, the conciliator approach is an essential ingredient. This is why neo-wilsonian foreign policy is more pragmatic and will result in positive outcomes. The failure of the neocon approach on Afghanistan is obvious and that's certainly where we seem to be headed in Iraq as well.

the Spam King is right

Ronald Scelson , the Cajun Spammer king who sends 180 million spam emails every 12 hours, is ironically the only one making sense on dealing with the spam problem.

Scelson said he supports anti-spam legislation. But while committee members were clearly intrigued by his story, they gave little weight to his proposed solution: Pass a tough spam law, but then prevent any Internet provider from blocking e-mail from bulk marketers that abide by the law.

The Burns-Wyden bill would make it illegal for bulk mailers to forge their sending location, have deceptive subject lines or prevent users from removing their names from e-mail lists. Owners of networks would retain the ability to block mail, and the legislation gives Internet providers legal standing to hunt down and sue spammers.

(emphasis mine) I think it's a brilliant suggestion. If the Burns-Wyden bill is passed, then I can easily filyer my mail to stop spam I don't want to see. I don't think that my ISPs should be blocking email that may be spam but follows these rules. The filters in Eudora and Outlook Express are powerful enough to stop all spam I am not interested in receiving if I know for a fact that the forged header problem vanishes. I think it's a great compromise.

postwar screwup watch: Tuwaitha redux

Phil Carter has even more bad news about the looting of nuclear materials from Tuwaitha - according to CNN civilians near the site are beginning to show signs of radiation sickness. Phil identifies a lack of troops on the ground (a recurring theme) as the root cause:

It goes without saying that this story is bad. I wrote a couple of days ago that the decision to leave this facility unguarded -- while putting troops on oil facilities and other critical infrastructure -- was probably a big mistake. Now we have some hint of the cost of that decision. This story also shows the price of not having enough troops to do the job at the precise moment necessary. The critical window for establishing order was right after Saddam's statute fell -- that's when the looting happened; that's when the proverbial radioactive cat got out of the bag.

These cases of radiation sickness may, unfortunately, be irreversible and incontrovertible evidence of that. But at this point, hand-wringing won't do much good. We have to get enough soldiers on the ground to secure Iraq -- whether they come from NATO, the National Guard, or elsewhere. Once the streets are secure, we need to get all the NGOs and aid organizations necessary into Iraq to fix this kind of stuff. There may not be much that we can do for children like Amar. But if they get there fast enough, groups like Doctors Without Borders and the Red Crescent can try to save thousands of others.

Phil also has an excerpt from military prophet Ralph Peters and his own analysis about the issue of sufficient boots on the ground. He also takes a hard look at Rumsfeld's plans to remake the Army with less emphasis on human beings and more on technology:

Secretary Rumsfeld is right that transformation needs to happen. But the Office of the Secretary of Defense does not necessarily have all the answers about transformation. In my old unit, the 4th Infantry Division, the smartest minds on transformation were usually the junior officers and sergeants who actually used the stuff in the field. Similarly, Secretary Rumsfeld should realize that some of the best ideas on transformation may be out in the field right now -- perhaps even in the Army. Furthermore, acrimony between the OSD staff and the Army staff is not in the best interests of America's defense. If there are legitimate areas of disagreement, so be it -- let the best ideas prevail. If there are personality conflicts, those need to be dealt with. But the price for pursuing the wrong vision of transformation will be paid in American blood. Eventually, the OSD and Army staffs are going to have to find the right answer together, and put the Rumsfeld v. Army feud behind them.

Rumsfeld's conflict with eth Army is at the root of our problems in winning the peace in Iraq - we have ideology interfering with practical needs. I'm adding Phil to my daily readme list for now - his insights are just too valuable to risk having missed.

water flows uphill

A British inventor has created a garden that features a series of cascading waterfalls - where water flows uphill[1]. On display at the Chelsea flower show, it is inspiring all sorts of speculation:

It is a trick which has greatly intrigued the crowds at the Chelsea Flower Show, where Dyson's work is part of the Daily Telegraph's Silver Gilt award-winning garden. People have been queuing up 10-deep to see the fountain, says Mr Phillips, many of them discussing their various ideas as to how it works.

"I stand a discreet distance away and listen to some of their theories - there are some fantastic ideas there, some of them I actually wish I could make.

"One person was saying that they thought the water was actually travelling the other way - they were wondering how I was managing to get a water jet to shoot up to the top of the glass."

I'd love to see this thing in person. I just need to figure out an excuse to visit Murtz!

[1]Inspired by M.C. Escher's "Ascending and Descending" lithograph (1960).


who shot Mohammed al-Dura?

James Fallows turns his considerable investigative skills to the question. This article expands upon the theme of the original article I used as a hyperlink to Mohammed al-Dura's name in the footnote to my lanat upon the hirabists post.

The article is also posted to the UNMEDIA mailing list (archives are open to non-subscribers, so feel free to browse)

do not read while drinking Coke

I think I may have discovered the single funniest blog in the Blogverse.

on the threat posed by Iraq:

Chuck at Little Green Footballs writes: "Neither the protester holding this sign nor the Reuters copy editor who captioned the photo have any idea of the historical significance of its message, or what it says about the so-called 'anti-war movement.'� I couldn't have said it better myself. The threat posed by Saddam's Iraq is exactly that posed by Hitler's Germany in 1938.

Certainly, no country can be expected to stand up against the sheer force of Saddam's panzer divisions and luftwaffe when -- and that is a "when"-- he launches his blitzkrieg. I cannot believe that anyone who has any understanding of history could stand by silently as Saddam prepares to march his crack Baathist shock troops to reoccupy the Northern no-fly zones. Today it may be Mosul, but tomorrow it will be Warsaw. This formidable Iraqi war machine must be stopped now.

and on the true victims of rape:

The sad thing is that feminism has taken such a strong hold in this country that many people want to now blame rape on the men who commit it. Can you imagine that? How can a man resist assaulting a woman who's flaunting her body by wearing shorts, a tank top, or even a nun's habit? It's almost as bad as seeing a bulge in a man's jeans. We have no ability to restrain ourselves. The Lord made us that way.

and on how Seuss promotes sodomy:

Mr. Brown is gone for awhile living the bachelor life in the city. When he finally comes back. He's not alone. He's walking arm in arm with the mysterious Mr Black. Mrs. Brown is never mentioned again...So what happened? I think it's pretty obvious. Mr. Brown went off to the big city where he was recruited into homosexuality by the crafty Mr. Black. All this becomes clear when we learn that "Mr. Brown is upside down". His life's been changed. It's topsy turvy.

Don't miss the Presidential Action Figures or the Administration Holy Cards. This is satire on The Onion's level!

fun with Texas DPS

I want a new Texas Drivers' license number. The reason is, because I return/exchange a lot of stuff at Wal-Mart without a receipt, and I'm coming up against their six-month-limit policy. We get a lot of gifts for the baby and most are useless compared to diapers and what not. So it's clear - I just need a new TDL.

after all, Bush got one for similarly spurious reasons:

Now why would George Dubya require a Texas driver's license with an entirely new number? It was obtained on March 31, 1995, as was his wife's Laura Welch Bush's. His wife and daughters didn't need new numbers, nor did his famous parents -- former president and first lady, George H. and Barbara Pierce Bush -- who all would seem to be at as much risk security-wise. And by the way, doesn't Texas require renewal of a driver's license every four years on one's birthday? Did George Dubya have something in his past to hide to cause him to purge the old record and number? This seems especially confusing since his birthday is July 6, 1946, but he obtained his new number on March 31, 1995 as a renewal.

Due to this little anomaly, we thought perhaps we should check to see if this was a common practice for former governors of Texas, but no, they were not listed among the first four numbers previous to Dubya's. Now, in all fairness to Dubya we must ask why he would get a new number and not just assume it was to hide something in his past life. And why would he be given the nine-digit DL number 000000005? His wife's DL number is 005295107.

also, while we are at it, I think I deserve to have a new legal birthdate. Currently, mine falls on Valentine's Day and I therefore get cheated out of gifts - my wife need only get me a single present. This sucks. Also, I would like to move my daughter's birthday from April 10th to the same date as my wife's, April 17th. This will greatly reduce the amount of stress that I bear as I approach my old age.

Again, I find a precedent for this action in the state of Texas:

Which brings us to another subject on Dubya. During our search for the truth about Dubya's past, we came across something very interesting indeed! Another George W. Bush, white male, blue eyes, brown hair, but born on Oct. 17, 1964! What called our attention to this person, since there are so many Bushes living in Texas, this person's record was deleted on Dec. 24, 1998. Could there possibly be a connection between this person and Dubya that we as voters as yet are not aware of and why was his record deleted?

Since my daughter was born in Texas and I paid the extra $25 for teh fancy embossed Texas State Map version of the certificate, I think I'm as well qualified as this unknown guy George W. Bush whose record was deleted in 1998.

Texas DPS has recently shown that it is indeed willing to modify and destroy records even today, not just 5 years ago, so I think I've got a good case here.


bounded by the Qur'an and the Constitution

Tacitus points to this absurdity. I feel that the woman has no right to make this demand.

My religion demands that I neither pay nor receive interest. But if I pay my taxes late, then you better believe that I'll be paying interest. Being compelled to pay interest under threat of jail is a consequence of not paying taxes on time - therefore paying taxes on time is a religious duty.

First of all, neither the Qur'an nor the authentic hadith of the Prophet SAW demand that the face be fully covered. If this woman was part of some other religion that had scriptural requirements that supported full facial covering, then she might actually elicit some sympathy from me. However, her invocation of Islam here is disingenious on her part, since she demonstrates her intent to violate her own stated beliefs by choice.

Let's take her at her word. Suppose that her religion (whatever it may be) truly demands that she wear a full facial covering. The requirement by the State of Florida that her photo show her face is a requirement for the privelege to drive (neither the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights demand that driving is a right). Then by the constraints of the belief system she chooses to adopt, not driving becomes a religious duty[1]

The bottom line is that this woman chooses to wear her full facial veil based on a personal interpretation of religion[2] . She is attempting to leverage that personal interpretation to evade a civic requirement in order to lay claim a privelege. This puts he in the position of placing her desire to drive above her belief in her religious responsibilities.

She has to decide which is more important. If she was truly as committed to her personal interpretation as she claims from her high horse, then she should consider driving haram, just as I am personally forced to consider paying taxes late haram.

Note however that this issue is fundamentally different from the restrictions on Muslim schoolgirls in France from wearing the hijab. That is a true case of discriminating victimization by the State and interference with religion.

UPDATE: Al-Muhabajah makes some important relevant points and argues that even if this woman is wrong to demand a photo license with veil, the state is equally wrong to demand that her license be revoked outright.

UPDATE 2: Matthew distills the issue:

As I understood it, the state never denied that she has a right to wear a veil while driving. What they denied was that she has a right to wear a veil while getting her photo taken. If the state is really trying to prevent her from driving-while-veiled then I think she ought to win. If all they want is an unveiled photo and then want to let her wear what she wants, then I think the state should win.

[1] The irony of this compared to the opposite situation regarding women drivers in Saudi Arabia is not lost on me. and is grist for the comments mill.
[2] Which has essentially zero scriptural or doctrinal support. It's essentially a religious innovation (bida).

pragmatic prioritizing of responsibilities

actually, Bill and I agree completely:

Diana argues that Islam, as she understands it, is incompatible with American ideals, and where there is conflict, Islam must give way. I think Islam is more complex than her characterization of it. There are certainly aspects of the religion that trouble me, but I find that, like Christianity or Judaism, there is much good in it as well. Diana suggests that the "cognitive dissonance" cannot be rationally reconciled; I believe the dissonance is absolutely necessary, can be reconciled only through reason, and further, only through this cognitive dissonance will the Islamists, who refuse to admit a second, opposed idea into their minds, be routed.

this is what I actually meant when I said that there is no dissonance, that the only challenge is in assigning priorities. Take an example - the requirement that meat be halal. In practice I do not fully adhere to it, though I avoid pork completely I still eat beef and chicken at McDonald's, etc.

I make no excuses, it is my goal to someday be fully halal, but I've simply accepted for now that this is a goal that is prioritized lower than other more immediate ones (such as making sure that I speak our native language to my baby daughter as much as possible). Part of the reason that eating halal is scheduled lower on my priorities is simply because it's really hard. We live far away from our community in Houston, we often are exhausted after the long day and need to do dinner quick or cheap or bopth, etc. (these are not excuses). Speaking our language to our child is also hard, but it costs us nothing apart from a mental effort.

Dissonance arises when you have actual conflict - society tells you to do one thing, and that thing is in direct conflict with a religous requirement. To take a concrete example, if I am late on my taxes, I have to pay interest on that balance. My religion says that interest should not be paid or received. However, my religion also requires me to abide by the laws of my nation, and if I tried to fight against paying interest on my tax bill, I would suffer penalties far out of proportion. The bottom line is that I am compelled to pay interest on a late tax bill - so I simply do NOT pay taxes late. And if I ever am late, then I pay the interest.

The point here is that even this seemingly clear cut example of a conflict demonstrates the door to avoiding conflict. Don't pay taxes late. That becomes a religious responsibility, in a sens,e because the consequences put me in a position to violate my religious responsibilities.

This is always the case - there is always a way out, if you identify the source of the conflict and take preventive steps. And sometimes if there is no way out, then you are being compelled - which means that you at least didn't choose to violate the religious responsibility deliberately (premeditated).

In a free society like America, it's much less a problem. Even my community members in Britain face serious issues at times in being compelled to violate their religious responsibilities (which I won't be explaining in further detail, sorry). This forms one of the major foundations for my assertion that America remains the most Islamic country in the world - if you define an Islamic country as one that facilitates the believer's adherence to Islam.

The NPC Theory

I've plugged my friend Eric aka Phlegmatic's blog The 4th Humour before for its lurid and fantastically detailed dream diary. In general, his blog has a very high SNR of creative content and what I like to think of as "geek" philosophy - which is no less robust and rigorous as Matthew Yglesias' more traditional brand.

Now, however, Eric has finally decided to commit his "NPC Theory" to writing - which essentially states that most of the people you meet are "non-player characters" (NPC's) - programmed automatons with a finite set of responses to stimuli from the context of your perspective. This is subtler than the brute-force "free will is illusion" concept because the same person may be an NPC to you but a PC to me.

I like making the analogy to the Blogsphere - how many blogs are essentially recycled content from the A-list linkers? and how many are massive tomes iof fresh and original content? Looking at my own blogroll, I realise that I've heavily filtered it to emphasise those bloggers who are PCs from my perspective.

Anyway - do check out Eric's blog, the two entries on NPC Theory thus far are the Introduction and the Modified Turing Test for Character. I'm waiting for more!



Given that WMDs are still a desert mirage, the debate continues as to rationale for the war. Or at least, it continues among principled proponents of the war on Iraq like Thomas Nephew, and principled opponents of the war like myself. In his latest post, he disagrees with Gary Farber's mea culpa and remains cautiously optimistic that we will indeed find WMDs yet. In the course of this, he also asks the pointed question:

And if Saddam didn't have WMD, why the song and dance with Blix? Why not just welcome UNMOVIC, say "knock yourselves out, help yourselves to the fridge," and have frequent photo ops with earnest good people from around the globe?

I can think of lots of good reasons why you wouldn't want a foreign spra-national body poking around your military sites, regardless of whether you have a WMD program to hide or not.

Just imagine. Tomorrow UN Inspectors demand to inspect the Nes Tziona facility in Israel, on suspicion of WMG program development. What reaction do you think the Israelis would have? Anything less than outrage and obstruction would be a dereliction of duty by Sharon. The problem is the a-priori assumption that such a weapons capability exists, and thus the creation of a catch-22. Thomas explictly writes in his argument "with regrets, for war":

SCR 687 called for the unconditional destruction of all weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including chemical and biological weapons, and all ballistic missiles, and the unconditional cessation of attempts to acquire nuclear weapons... War, when it does come, will already be justified by common sense readings of a number of Security Council resolutions including SCR 687 and SCR 1441, and the aggregate impact of these and a number of intervening resolutions. It will not be pre-emptive, it will be punitive. It will finish a war interrupted in 1991, whose terms of cease-fire have been repeatedly violated by Iraq.

Note that this has always been a catch-22. If you don't have WMD, you still are guaranteed to fail according to these criteria. Apply them to the hypothetical scenario directed at Israel above. Let's say we have a similar SCR calling for Israel to renounce and unconditionally destroy all existing stocks of WMG. And unconditionally cease attempts to develop WMG. Apart from inflaming bloggers to furiously cry blood libel, is there any way that Israel could actually meet these conditions? The hypothetical Arab President of the United States in this bizarro world might well argue (from the perspective of his own self-interest) that Israel's history of aggression in the region (see: Suez Canal, attack on Iraqi nuclear reactor, etc.) as well as the "aggregate impact" of the previous UN resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from occupied territory, etc - all amount to "finishing a war interupted in 1967". The most chilling aspect of this hypothetical is applying the words "it will not be pre-emptive, it will be punitive."

I for one am NOT comfortable with establishing this level of required compliance. Obviously the Israel analogy is incomplete, but the point is that precedent can and will cut both ways - and invoking all these rationalizations sets the bar far too low for my taste.

If tomorrow we indeed find that one of those creaky mobile labs really was once used for some WMD work. Will this really be a vindication? The threat as implied in the WMD argument for war was that of an immediate, weaponized arsenal, aimed at Israel and ready for export, as Iraq loomed on the verge of regional conquest. Today it looks a lot different. Isnt it time to admit that SCR 1441 was grossly misstated? And what do you make of the distance that the white house now is putting between itself and the whole WMD-as-casus-belli argument?

For me the bottom line comes down to two things - the fact that all reports of Sadam's WMD capabilities had always been filtered through the white house or 10 Downing. And the fact that Tuwaitha was looted. These demonstrate irrefutably to my mind that the rationale for war was wrong from the outset, and that having gone to war, we are demonstrably worse off.

UPDATE: The above was also posted to Thomas's coments ection. He replied therein:

I'd say that a key difference between Israel and Saddam's Iraq is that Israel is a democracy and Iraq wasn't. I give much less of a damn about a totalitarian dictatorship's sovereignty than I do about a parliamentary democracy's sovereignty. [BTW, I also don't think that {Sinai,Osirak} are remotely comparable to {Kuwait}; you admit the analogy is incomplete, so I let it go at that.]

I don't think my rationale "guaranteed Saddam would fail." If he'd really gone the "knock yourself out" route, you wouldn't have had inspectors noting the resistance they did (here's a 2d account), we'd have found those labs right away, and SCR 1441 would not have been breached.

I haven't made up my mind about the bioweapons labs; I'd like to know more about them. In general, yes, if they were used for WMD work after 1991, Saddam violated the terms of his probation. As you know, I consider bio and chemical weapons part and parcel of the WMD equation. Anthrax alone can cause mass death in small quantities (1 kg -> 60000+ dead in a metro area, even if the DHS et al gets their public health act together) ; in theory, such labs could produce mass quantities.

SCR 1441 was a last chance to come clean. Saddam didn't.

But we agree on many things. I'd prefer the WMD evidence to be stronger. I hold the Bush administration accountable for their claims. And I'm as appalled as you are about the Tuwaitha looting.

I completely agree! I'm not trying to draw equivalence between Iraq and Israel. But what Thomas or I feel about the relative merits of Iraq's or Israel's claims to sovereignity is ultimately irrelevant. The main point here is that the invasion was justified on the grounds of a SCR's authority - and one that did involve a catch-22 no matter how much cooperation the Saddamites gave us, because of the a-priori assumption that there were WMDs to find. There is no credible way that anyone can argue that had Saddam totally given free reign to the inspectors, and had they still found nothing, that there would still not have been cries of "deception!" "obstruction!" etc because not finding WMDs is a violation of SCR 1441. Regardless of whether the WMDs were not found via outright obstruction or simple non-existence. I don't like that precedent because it can and will be abused.

And the second main point I'm trying to make with my thought experiment is simply that SCR 1441 essentially argues that "cooperation with inspectors" is a valid rationale for invasion and regime change. Not presence of WMD per se, but as you pointed out, obstructing the search for WMD in and of itself. The WMDs were less important than the process of looking for them as an end goal. This is why I see it as a catch-22.

Of course there are major flaws in any analogy between Israel and Iraq on any grounds. Of course there are differences. But I am not making the analogy in order to defend or accuse Israel or Iraq - the analogy exists solely to demonstrate that the precedents set by the SCR 1441 affair are dangerous ones that are blind to those differences.


Inspired by Tacitus's open thread asking "what are you?" (or "what aren't you?") and why, I actually wrote down for possibly teh first time my general guiding principles. Readers of the blog might identify these themes running through my posts.

I'm not a Republican because I'm a closet communist. And I'm not a Democrat because I'm a closet fascist. At leats, that's how I look to the hard-core ideolouges who comprise the cores of these groups, and it's that rancor and filtered worldview that drives me away from any explicit party affiliation. Ultimately I'm less interested in party labels and more interested in philosophical ones.

For example, I'm definitely neowilsonian. I'm also socially conservative in practice, but socially liberal regarding socety and law. I'm extremely fiscally conservative. I'm a conciliator with dominator leanings. I think the best foreign policy is one that encourages strong allies of common interest, guided by the twin moral precepts of "if you want peace, work for justice" and "teach a man to fish".

I have strong libertarian impulses regarding personal liberty and states' rights but these are tempered by my progresive belief that diversity is a source of strength, which must be nurtured by the state. I see a basic conflict between capitalism and meritocracy, even though I strongly believe in both - which is why I see affirmative action as a powerful mediator.

I strongly favor scientific freedom, ie reverse engineering, stem cell research, etc. - I believe that technology and research must be unbounded by moral imperatives. Ultimately there is no technology that cannot be used to serve mankind, and that justifies the risk that it will be abused.

I'm against using religion or ethnicity as the sole fount of identity. I think identity needs separable orthogonal components, of which religion and ethnicity form separate axes. Another axis shoudl be national identity, yet another local (and for me, local identity is synonymous with State identity. I don't go much more fine-grained than that). I reject the idea that politics should enter into identity at all.

I am Valjean and Javert, in counterpoint. Also, see the Whitman quote in the "Praise for UNMEDIA" sidebar.


sounds like everything is going according to plan.

After 9/11, Bush made two statements:

  1. "Terrorists hate America because America is a land of freedom and opportunity."

  2. "We intend to attack the root causes of terrorism."

(via /.)

postwar screwup watch: Bizarro World 2nd Amendment

The campaign to win the peace continues:

Baghdad, Iraq-AP -- The U-S military is now telling Iraqis they cannot own or sell guns. Any Iraqi who does faces arrest, according to a new radio spot running in the country.

Of course, the gun-loving Iraqi society wasn't enough to keep them free from a tyrant. And now that we have ostensibly freed them, they can't have guns. This should go over well.


have you no decency, sir?

Tacitus is right, the accusation that the Dept of Homeland Security is interfering wrongfully in affairs of Texas is overblown.

However, as reported by NPR and the Houston Chronicle, DeLay did send Texas Rangers to the neonatal unit in Galveston, trying to intimidate the family of Rep. Craig Eiland and try to ensnare him should he visit his twins in intensive care there. Rangers have also entered the home of Rep. Joe Pickett without permission after his daughter left the door open.

Also, according to AP and the Chron, DeLay is trying to enlist the FBI and federal marshals to try and drag the Democrats back to Austin - which does indeed cross the line as an abuse of federal power. There is no criminal statue against breaking a state quorum that should necessitate federal law enforcement or prosecution.

There is indeed no decency, none.

UPDATE: Charles Kuffner has some critical background information about the history of bipartisanship in the Texas Lege and how this entire affair, orchestrated from Washington, could have been avoided had the current crop of Rovian/Delayite Republicans been a little more open to compromise rather than the tactics of brute force.

And Burnt Orange Report's coverage has been gripping and compelling reading - including the details of his own road trip to Ardmore.

UPDATE 2: Thomas Nephew points out in the comments that the Chron fingered Craddick, not DeLay, in trying to bring the FBI onboard. But given that DeLay has been the primary instigator of the redistricting push, I didn't find the denials of his involvement coming from his office yesterday to be any more convincing than either NPR or the local news. This whole affair has been stage-manged from Sugarland on the Potomac.[1] He also disagrees about DHS, which forces me to clarify - DHS is designed to be aimed internally. It's not out of character for DHS to be used to interfere in states issues or in personal ones. My objections to DHS stem from its basic purpose, which I think is a powerful potential for abuse. But using DHS in this way is not an exaggeratio of DHS' powers, but rather the real intended use.

[1] the name of the Houston suburb that is DeLay's political home base.


postwar screwup watch: WMD game over

The Administration calls it quits in the search for WMDs:

Frustrated, U.S. Arms Team to Leave Iraq
Task Force Unable To Find Any Weapons

BAGHDAD -- The group directing all known U.S. search efforts for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is winding down operations without finding proof that President Saddam Hussein kept clandestine stocks of outlawed arms, according to participants.
Leaders of Task Force 75's diverse staff -- biologists, chemists, arms treaty enforcers, nuclear operators, computer and document experts, and special forces troops -- arrived with high hopes of early success. They said they expected to find what Secretary of State Colin L. Powell described at the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5 -- hundreds of tons of biological and chemical agents, missiles and rockets to deliver the agents, and evidence of an ongoing program to build a nuclear bomb.

Scores of fruitless missions broke that confidence, many task force members said in interviews.

Army Col. Richard McPhee, who will close down the task force next month, said he took seriously U.S. intelligence warnings on the eve of war that Hussein had given "release authority" to subordinates in command of chemical weapons. "We didn't have all these people in [protective] suits" for nothing, he said. But if Iraq thought of using such weapons, "there had to have been something to use. And we haven't found it. . . . Books will be written on that in the intelligence community for a long time."

This is of course referring to the issue of chemical and biological WMD, which Bush claimed Iraq had (speaking through Powell), and which the imminent threat of handing over to terrorists was justification for the war on Iraq. Meanwhile, the Tuwaitha nuclear plant gets raided because Rumsfeld didn't bother to assign troops. Presumably because they dont think the threat from radioactive material falling into terrorists' hands is a threat, unlike bio- and chem materials that don't exist.

David Corn is all over the proliferation issue.... check it out.

kobayashi Maru in the Texas House

There's a reason I love this state, even though I am a transplant.

Yesterday, 53 Democrats in the Texas House left the state, breaking "quorum" (the requirement that a minimum number of representatives be physically present in order to pass legislation). They broke quorum to prevent the GOP from passing (guaranteed, through their majority) a re-districting bill that would have grossly undermined the democratic process in Texas. Of course, the GOP cries foul, claiming that breaking quorum is a dishonest tactic (though the GOP used precisely the same tactic back in 1971. One of the GOP reps who walked out back then was none other than current Speaker Tom Craddick, who is full of self-righteous hypocritic outrage today).

The GOP agenda is to ignore the grievous need for a sane state budget (Texas is in the throes of such a severe crisis that the Governor demanded that ALL state agencies - underfunded as they are, cut 7% from their budgets for next year), and push instead of this outrageous redistricting bill that does nothing to establish fair representation of constituents, but rather simply serves to buttress GOP control of the Texas Legislature. The Burnt Orange Report has a detailed summary of the propsed bill and why this was such a brilliant move.

Imagine that Texas had 50 million Democrats and 1 million Republicans. The principle behind gerrymandering is to draw the boundaries of the congressional districts in such a way that all the Democrats (in this case, blacks and hispanics especially) are concentrated in a select few districts. This could mean that even if the GOP was outnumbered 50-1 they could still have a majority control. This inequality arises because control of the state government is determined at the granular level of districts, not counties (larger) or towns (smaller) as the basic unit. That's an essential feature of the way our government works, but it is open to abuse, as the GOP has demonstrated. It's also why GOP cries of outrage at the Democrats supposed subversion of the "true majority" is so laughably hypocritical. The GOP wants the politicians to choose the voters, instead of the other way around.

The House does have the authority to try and compel the Dems to return for quorum. But all the public alert bulletins aren't going to help the GOP's credibility. And Gov. Perry's laughable attempt to force Oklahoma to cooperate was shut down fast.

The Texas political establishment is on the side of the Dems. The Editorial responses have been overwhelmingly positive. Kos Charles Kuffner has an essential FAQ on the affair at the Political State Report.

All of this reminds me of the Kobayashi Maru test from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan:

The Kobayashi Maru, sir.

Are you asking me if we're playing out that scenario now, Lieutenant?

On the test, sir. Will you tell me what you did? I would really like to know.

(Kirk looks at Bones, who smiles)

Lieutenant, you are looking at the only Starfleet cadet who ever beat the no-win scenario -


I reprogrammed the simulation so it was possible to rescue the ship.


(laughs) He cheated!

I changed the conditions of the test. I got a commendation for original thinking. (pause) I don't like to lose.

Then - you never faced that situation - faced death...

(Kirk picks up the communicator.)

I don't believe in the no-win scenario.

In politics, neither do I.

reverse the polarity

The other night, I couldn't get my car to start. I solved the problem by reversing the polarity of the car battery, and routing the power through my satellite dish. The resulting subspace plasma caused a rift in the space-time continuum, which created a quantum tunnelling effect that charged the protons in the engine core, thus starting my car. Child's play, really. As a happy side-effect, I also now get the Spice Channel for free.

brilliant! Though for the more serious Star Trek aficianado, I have to plug Jammer's reviews, by Jamahl Epsicokhan. He sufferred through the Voyager years, and was a pure masochist for Andromeda. But the real value is his insightful analyses of Enterprise. For example, from his review of The Breach:

Hudak turns out to be an Antaran, who immediately and adamantly refuses to be treated by Phlox on the basis that Phlox is a Denobulan. Phlox must respect the patient's wishes in accordance with Denobulan medical ethics. Without treatment, Hudak will die in a matter of days.

The bitterness here runs beyond deep. When Archer inquires about the situation, Phlox explains that the Antarans and the Denobulans were once, some three centuries ago, locked in a brutal war. The facts are left somewhat vague (Phlox is not particularly comfortable discussing it in detail), but it seems the Denobulans slaughtered millions of Antarans in the course of this war, using some especially ugly battle methods. "It wasn't our proudest moment," Phlox says quietly.

After the war ended, there began a bitter divide between the Denobulans and the Antarans. The societies no longer had any sort of relationship or dialog between them, but each society would pass down its history and hatred for the other side -- from one generation to the next. Many of those feelings have survived to the present day, even though Denobulans and Antarans haven't encountered each other for six generations.

The story is about the possibility of the healing process and whether healing can overcome centuries of learned prejudice. Hudak, being the guest character, represents the side that initially does not want to budge. Phlox, being a permanent resident of this series, represents the more comforting side of the situation: a man with an open mind who does not wish to judge those on the basis of ancient history. Can an understanding be reached between these two? (Well, I've already answered that question. The answer is, this is traditional Star Trek.)

The early sense of frustration I mentioned is best shown in a scene where Phlox loses his self-control and uncorks his bottled feelings after Hudak persists in baselessly slandering his intentions. Phlox lets loose a brief tirade: "I have tried to treat you with respect, but I refuse to listen to these insults. You're the reason we haven't been able to put the past behind us. You've kept this hatred alive. No Denobulan would want to be in the same room with you!" It's a potent moment; the suddenness of Phlox exploding into this angry outburst comes across almost like an involuntary result of pent-up frustration. It felt very real and also worked as an attention grabber. John Billingsley shows a credible ability to turn on a dime from his usual affable nature to sullen and then emotional.

Having reviews of this quality is a luxury. If you have a favorite episode, you're almost certain to find his review to contribute to your understanding and appreciation for all that is good about Star Trek.

the falsity of the Kalam Cosmological Argument

I have asserted that you cannot prove God, for to do so would deny faith. This does not mean, logically, that if you DID somehow prove God (for example, if God presented you with 10 Commandments, or a holy Qur'an) that God would vanish - that is not the point of the Douglas Adams excerpt either. The God that vanishes is the concept of God as an entity whose existence can be proved, rather than the requirement of God as an entity that must be believed in.

While technically true that God revealing Himself to man would constitute a proof of sorts, that also denies faith. Now the man to whom God has revealed Himself does not need faith. He can simply point to God. The believer however, will most likely never perceive God in that direct form, and thus their belief in God is a matter of faith and not proof.

I do believe that God exists, and that belief is independent of whether God proves his existence or not to me. Thus I do not need proof, and in fact God's direct revelation would not be proof. If I were to treat it as such, then I never truly had faith.

This is why an avowed atheist such as Steven Den Beste is my ally, against attempts to prove the existence of God, such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument. This supposed proof proceeds as such:

  1. The universe either had (a) a beginning or (b) no beginning.

  2. If it had a beginning, the beginning was either (a) caused or (b) uncaused.

  3. If it had a cause, the cause was either (a) personal or (b) not personal.

The supposition is that if the Universe had a beginning, which was caused, and the cause was personal, then that proves God. Actually, it doesn't, because the only God the Kalam argument proves is the Deist God who created the Universe and then ceased all interference afterwards. That version of God is incompatible with Islam (or Judaism, or Christianity, according to my understanding).

But the methods by which the Kalam argument "proves" the answer to be (a) in each case constitute a gross abuse of mathematics and science. Note that by relying entirely on Math, Science, and Philosophy to attempt to infer the existence of an entity that transcends those concepts (by definition), the proof is already in violation of Godel's Incompleteness Theorem. But a more fundamental flaw is that the entire thesis rests on the postulate that "a trait of the actual infinite is that nothing can be added to it". They attempt to justify this using a thought-experiment called "Hilbert's Hotel" :

Let us imagine a hotel with a finite number of rooms, and let us assume that all the rooms are occupied. When a new guest arrives and requests a room, the proprietor apologises, 'Sorry--all the rooms are full.' Now let us imagine a hotel with an infinite number of rooms, and let us assume that again all the rooms are occupied. But this time, when a new guest arrives and asks for a room, the proprietor exclaims, 'But of course!' and shifts the person in room 1 to room 2, the person in room 2 to room 3, the person in room 3 to room 4, and so on... The new guest then moves into room 1, which has now become vacant as a result of these transpositions. But now let us suppose an infinite number of new guests arrive, asking for rooms. 'Certainly, certainly!' says the proprietor, and he proceeds to move the person in room 1 into room 2, the person in room 2 into room 4, the person in room 3 into room 6, the person in room 4 into 8, and so on... . In this way, all the odd-numbered rooms become free, and the infinity of new guests can easily be accommodated in them.

In this story the proprietor thinks that he can get away with his clever business move because he has forgotten that his hotel has an actually infinite number of rooms, and that all the rooms are occupied. The proprietor's action can only work if the hotel is a potential infinite, such that new rooms are created to absorb the influx of guests. For if the hotel has an actually infinite collection of determinate rooms and all the rooms are full, then there is no more room. (Craig, Kalam, 84-85)

The simplest counterexample is simply the infinite set N of real positive integers, ie { 1, 2, 3, ... }. Now all I do is add zero. We now have { 0, N} where N = { 1, 2, 3, ...}, ie {0, 1, 2, 3, ...}. There! We just added one to infinity.

To apply this counterexample against Hilbert's Hotel, simply consider the room numbers to be labeled according to N. Now the hypothetical guest arrives. Build him a new room with room number 0.

The distinction between a "potential" and "actual" infinite is arbitrary. The distinction is solely introduced to justify the claim - note the underlined sentence above in the Hilbert Hotel example, which explicitly tries to deflect my counterexample by labeling it a "potential" infinite. They are essentially trying to claim 1. The Hotel is a pure math construct, not in the Real World. 2. We cannot build a new room because the Hotel is in the Real World, not a pure math construct.

In fact, they repeat this type-confusion by asserting that because "potential infinities" cannot exist in the Real World, that this even applies to God. The implicit assumption that they (probably did not intend to) make is that God is bounded by the Real World. This may have been true for the Greek pantheon, but Allah is beyond human comprehension and the limits of his Creation.

UPDATE: Christopher Landsdown, a grad student in math, has some minor corrections. Most importantly, he demonstrates that - counter to assertions in teh comments below - an infinite subset of an infinite set is NOT equal to the infinite set. The Kalam people also really need to look up the difference between "isomorphism" and "homomorphism" in a group theory textbook.

The website invoking Kalam also argues that Cantor, of set-theory fame, also subscribed to a version of this argument and even tried to present it to the Pope:

In fact, until Gregor Cantor's work in set theory, mathematicians rejected the existence of an actual infinite as a mathematical concept. But Cantor himself denied the existential possibility of the actual infinite. In correspondence with the Pope, he even suggested that the existential impossibility of the actual infinite could be used in a mathematical-metaphysical proof for the existence of God.

This proves that Cantor was a great mathematician, but a poor theologist.

UPDATE: Troy writes in to demonstrate with examples of Cantor's own writings that the attribution above that Cantor denied the existence of "actual infinities" is a blatant lie. Cantor argued with Leibniz that "actual infinities" did physically exist:

"Throughout his tough career at the University of Berlin, Cantor maintained a steady outlook on his adversaries. 'All so-called proofs against the possibility of actually infinite numbers are faulty, as can be demonstrated in every particular case, and as can be concluded on general grounds as well.'" (ref: Georg Cantor, Transfinite Numbers, The Open Court Publishing Company, Chicago and London, 1915.)

There's also an extended quote from the Leibniz Society Review as well that further documents Cantor's position. It's one thing to argue from authority. It's quite another to lie about what the authority said and then argue from that lie.