Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Polymorphous Islam

Before 9/11 I, like almost everyone else in the Western world, had no interest in Islam. However, nothing invites an interest in the ideology or religion of others quite like the mass murder of your fellow citizens performed in the name of that ideology or religion.

My investigation of Islam began with Bernard Lewis' "What Went Wrong". The title of the book is misleading. Lewis invites attention to various peculiarities and anomalies of the Ottoman Empire but in the end has nothing very useful to say about the matter. Nor has anyone else to my knowledge.

A careful reading of the Koran and Hadith would lead one to believe that Islam is a genuinely evil creed that provides ample justification for murdering, plundering, enslaving and oppressing infidels. A study of historical Moslem depredations and conquests reinforces that point of view. However, scripture and history can no more be used to indict today's Moslems than today's Christians. Both have had at various times and places a murderous and intolerant history. The Moslem invasion of India is heartbreaking in its cruelty, viciousness and slaughter. So too is the history of Europe's 30 Years War between Protestants and Catholics. If scripture and history lack explanatory value, where should we look instead? A good place to begin is in the former Ottoman provinces in Europe.

There is today no nation in the world more favorably disposed to the United States than Albania. This tiny, impoverished country has supplied a small contingent to coalition forces in Iraq although its dominant religion is Islam. Bulgaria and Germany have largely Turkish Moslem minorities that are millions strong who quietly practice their faith without threatening or doing violence to Christian majorities. Turkey has struggled for nearly a century to become European with mixed results. Nevertheless, there is a separation of church and state and Turkish Jihadists are extremely rare. The Moslem Druze minority in Israel have long allied themselves with the Jewish state and played an important role in its military affairs. This carefully selected sample would suggest that Islam is not incompatible with a modern civil society.

We need look no further than Saudi Arabia, Iran and parts of Pakistan and Bangladesh along with various other Arab states to find something quite different and genuinely evil by the standards of the more civilized nations of the world. Given both loathesome and admirable examples of Islamic populations we must conclude, at the least, that there is no useful, general statement about Islam that explains Islamic terrorism. Islam is polymorphous and can be either benign or malignant depending on who practices it and where it is practiced.

Islamic terrorists wherever they may be found subscribe to a version of Islam that is the unique product of Arab culture and entirely foreign to many other Moslem societies. The question then is not what is wrong with Islam or the Moslem world but what is profoundly wrong with the Arab culture responsible for this evil. That will be the subject of a future piece.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

You Don't Always Get What You Want

The Bush administration has made abundantly clear its fundamental war aims in Iraq. The initial goal was to remove from power a regime that had persuasively demonstrated a desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction, the ability to produce those kinds of weapons and the willingness to use them against defenseless civilians. That regime was also known to aid and abet international terrorist organizations. That was an easily achievable goal because it could be accomplished through the simple application of military force.

A second and more debatable goal was replacing the former regime with a friendly, respectable and viable democracy that would inspire Arabs elsewhere to demand nothing less and thus destabilize in a positive way the schlerotic despotisms that rule Arabs in other countries. This is a noble, necessary and extraordinarily ambitious experiment. However, it is not a goal that can be achieved through brute force. If it is to be achieved at all it must be accomplished by Iraqis with the motivation, influence, commitment and courage to settle for nothing else. America in general and the Bush administration in particular cannot be held ultimately responsible for the outcome in this regard. The best it can do is try to influence the shape of the political battlefield while using its good offices and limited powers of friendly persuasion.

It is therefore important for those who would make at least a pretense of objectivity to try to grasp a few basic facts. American armed forces can help the interim government buy the time it needs to create and deploy security forces capable of defeating the current insurrection. Public order is the responsibility of the Iraqi government.

America can't dictate the contents of the forthcoming Iraqi proposed constitution. While America can offer its advice to the Iraqis who must do the necessary haggling and political camel trading needed to create a constitution capable of winning broad approval, America can't be held responsible for the outcome in that matter either.

It is very hard to predict how things will ultimately play out as America has very little control over outcomes. We should therefore prepare ourselves for disappointment and have enough sense to allocate blame in a rational fashion. In the meantime, there are a number of scenarios that should be considered:
  1. The politicians writing the Iraqi constitution do a superb job by Western standards. The Kurds love it, the Shiites can live with it and the Sunnis can endure it. It is widely embraced and enthusiastically endorsed by the great majority of Iraqi voters.
  2. It's a great constitution by Western standards. While the Kurds love it, Shiites and Sunnis can't live with it.
  3. It is flawed, by Western standards, and asserts that public policy and national laws will conform to Sharia law. It creates a political chasm between moderate Muslims and secularists and a slender Shiite majority.
  4. The proposed constitution fails to win the approval of the required parties and it is back to the drawing board.
There are more possible outcomes than those listed above and America can be held accountable for none of them. The Iraqis must make the political bed that they will all share.

The content of the new Iraqi constitution, if it is accepted, does not guarantee that those elected to form a new constitutional government will honor it. The new government, just like the current interim government, may officially forbid torture and extrajudicial punishment while at the same practicing both. While America may have strived to create an Arab version of Switzerland it may have to settle instead for a replica of Egypt -- a corrupt, autocratic, oppressive, nominally democratic excuse for a modern civil society that is less threatening to our interests than most other Muslim nations.

The best we can do is use our limited influence to help Iraqis get the government that the majority of them deserve. If it proves in time to be a horrid government that isn't our fault. The Iraqis will have had their chance and blown it. So be it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Big Government Conservatism

The term "big government conservatism" is oxymoronic in terms of Libertarianism and Classical Liberalism. In the best of all possible worlds there would be no such thing. Furthermore, a national government that was by and large relatively small, weak, unintrusive and penurious was the norm before the Great Depression and the major political realignment that would transfer the keys to the political kingdom to the Democrat Party. Political affairs used to be a lot more to the liking of conservatives than they are now. If only we could make it so again. But can we?

Franklin Roosevelt's achievements in mitigating the devastating effects of Great Depression mass unemployment are debatable and it can be fairly argued that he did more harm than good by inhibiting the needed capital investment that would later be dramatically increased during WWII. However, an ounce of image is often worth more than a pound of performance in some circumstances and Democrat initiatives during the Roosevelt administration offered the only hope of future employment and economic security to much if not most of the population. For every person desperately unemployed there was very likely another who feared the same fate and there were others still who knew them both and sympathized with their plights and almost all looked to government to do something useful to help them. The era of big government was upon us.

The Great Depression produced what Thomas S. Kuhn may have classified as a paradigm shift. It certainly led to a radical change in general American thinking about the role of government in the economy and the respective duties and responsibilities of citizen and state. While there are conservatives who would very much like to put the toothepaste back into the tube it is unlikely they will make much progress in doing so. Americans, in the main, seem to want a big, activist government that solves problems and cures ills. So, what to do? Get real.

If the majority of Americans want a big, activist government it makes sense to give it to them. Doing otherwise is a recipe for political oblivion. If Republicans are to prevail against their Democrat rivals they need to propose policies and legislative initiatives that promise to make things better and those policies and initiatives should be designed to appeal to a majority of the electorate. At the same time they can endeavor to make those policies and initiatives consistent with some conservative values. That entails sensitivity to economic consequences, using economic incentives instead of coercion and block grants to states rather than centralized command and control bureaucracies enforcing one-size-fits-all solutions. The key to success then is creating a general perception that Republicans can do a better job of giving most Americans the big government they seem to want. That can be achieved by persuading most voters that Republicans are more innovative, more efficient and more pragmatic than their Democrat counterparts while being no less caring than Democrats about those who find themselves at or near the bottom of the economic totem pole. Republicans can also make a persuasive argument that they are less beholden to single-issue special interest groups than their Democrat rivals.

Democrat activists who hold an opinion on the matter seem to generally agree that their political party lacks a coherent message and "ideas" that a majority of voters would find appealing. They are correct. You can't cobble together a coherent, majoritarian message out of the conflicting or unrelated demands and priorities of NOW, the ACLU, AFL-CIO, Environmental Defense Fund, NAACP and other constituencies with public policy tunnel-vision. Sound public policy is not the mathematical product of minority grievances and rent-seeking.

I was once a small-government, traditional conservative who would have been delighted to witness the abolition of whole departments of government and a general retreat from big government. In time, I realized that the political product most appealing to the majority of voters is effective, efficient, pro-active, big government. George Bush's compassionate conservatism fills that bill. That product sells well and the Republican control of Congress and the White House are evidence of that.

I fancy myself a pragmatic conservative. Ideological wishful thinking is, to me, pointless. I am therefore a big government conservative. If we are compelled to perform odious tasks in order to gain and maintain political power let us at least try to do a more credible and efficient job than our clueless competition.

Monday, August 08, 2005

A Little Bit of Tolerance Can Go a Long Way

I once knew a Young Earth Creationist Christian who attempted to prove to me that the Earth was a little bit more than 6,000 years old and everything that 99.9 percent or more of scientists thought to the contrary was wrong. As there was no amount scientific evidence that could possibly change his mind, I concentrated on discrediting his sources. In so doing I found some remarkably good material critical of some aspects of the theory of evolution. While it is clear that the universe and our planet are very, very old and the fossil record clearly shows that the evolution of life forms has in fact taken place, contemporary evolutionary theory is at times weak when it comes to mechanisms.

Darwin thought that evolution would be both continuous and very gradual. The fossil record says something very different. Taxa seem to be stable for incredibly long periods of time before going through periods of rapid change. Stephen Jay Gould attempted to explain this with his theory of punctuated equilibrium. There are other good natural explanations as well. While this phenomenon is currently the subject of scientific debate there is good reason that to believe that a satisfactory natural explanation will be forthcoming.

Evolutionary theory is also very shaky when it comes to characterizing how the first single cell creatures came into being. The dilute nutrient pond plus outside energy source (lightning, cosmic rays, etc.) theory leaves much to be desired. However, recent discoveries of novel ecological systems flourishing near deep sea hydrothermal vents suggest a viable alternate scenario. The late Tom Gold proposed yet another intriguing theory proposing that life formed in the deep crust of the Earth. However, Stuart Kauffman's theory of autocatalytic networks is a viable alternative to the conventional wisdom of the last half-century and neatly disposes of the argument that life could not have originated naturally because of astronomical improbability.

So, evolutionary theory in currently accepted form is on thin ice when it comes to origins and firmer but not completely solid footing in terms of mechanisms. It is in that regard, subject to attacks by those who deny that evolution is an established fact. However, there is an important distinction between the science that tells us what happened and the science that attempts to describe how it happened. What happened -- the fossil and geological records -- is indisputable. How it happened is another matter altogether. Much work needs to be done there.

There are those who argue that, along with conventional evolutionary facts and theories, we should also present an alternative called "Intelligent Design". Our universe may, in fact, be the result of a failed laboratory experiment conducted by a student on the planet Zork in another universe. Or it may have taken place in exactly the way described in the Biblical book of Genesis. The problem with Intelligent Design theories is that they cannot provide through any scientific means that we currently accept answers to the two most fundamental questions that arise from that theory: who did it and how did he, she, it or them do it? While Intelligent Design is an interesting speculation, it is nothing more than that.

However, some Christians have an incontrovertable belief in the divine origins of life on Earth. They want students to at least be exposed to the possibility that their notion has some merit. I see little harm in reasonable accommodation between contending parties in this matter. The theory of evolution is of little interest to almost everyone other than evolutionary biologists. At best, it is nice to know for the rare person who has an interest in the matter and irrelevant to everyone else.

I would therefore propose a measure of tolerance. Let Bible Belt school districts or other local authorities who dictate curricula go about their business without interference. No measurable or significant harm will be done and we can avoid a needless war between Christian anti-evolutionists and those who despise them that doesn't have to be fought to be won. This is not a life and death matter and the fate of the Republic does not hang in the balance. Lighten up, give some slack and no harm will be done.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Imaginary Think Tank Gap

There are countless organizations that retail themselves as think tanks providing fact-based and well-reasoned analysis of problems of various kinds and public policy proposals aimed at addressing them. The greater part of those specializing in economic, foreign policy and defense matters are either conservative or nonpartisan.

Sound public policy must meet three fundamental requirements. It must first and foremost be problem-oriented and define problems in a concrete and specific fashion. It must honestly and objectively collect pertinent facts and examine the various ways in which problems can be solved in order to offer sound solutions. Finally, public policy proposals must be politically viable. Recommending public policies that have absolutely no chance of being implemented is nothing more than wishful thinking. Think tanks that actually think about how to solve problems do not do so in order to advance an ideology. They are realistic and pragmatic.

Conservative and non-partisan think tanks, on the whole, do a respectable job of meeting those requirements. Conservative think tanks work hard to find free-market carrots that can be used by government to promote the general welfare and are motivated to find solutions that don't rely on rigid bureaucratic command and control models. They are predisposed to create economic incentives for people to do the right thing rather than commanding people to do the right thing and punishing them if they don't. This is a good thing as civilized people usually prefer persuasion to coercion.

While conservative think tanks are highly motivated to find free-market solutions to problems they are not adverse to employing coercion when there is no other practical alternative. This pragmatism is exemplified by the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. That extraordinarily successful piece of legislation betrays its conservative think tank origins by carefully avoiding the rigid, command and control systems often favored by the Left. While it established goals and measures of success it did not dictate how those goals should be achieved. Instead, it provided block grants to the states thereby funding 50 different experiments aimed at meeting the goals it had established.

Democrat Party soul-searching after its last major electoral defeat led some Democrats to conclude that they were losing the war of ideas and that this was in large measure due to a relative shortage of liberal think tanks. Using money donated by George Soros and others, Democrat activists attempted to create a competitive think tank that would in time provide for them well-researched and well-reasoned policy proposals consistent with their ideology. It calls itself The Center for American Progress. A brief visit to its Web page is instructive. Don't look for any original research reports. There aren't any. You will have to settle for links to genuine liberal think tanks like the The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Urban Institute and Brookings Institution. The Center for American Progress's Web resembles that of left wing political publications like The Progressive, American Prospect and The Nation. However, links to news reports and op-ed pieces are not the same thing as original research and analysis.

An alliance of 80 wealthy Democrats has pledged at least $1 million each to expand the number of liberal or progressive think tanks. But do liberals really suffer from a think tank disadvantage that is responsible for their lack of useful ideas in the public policy arena?

My review of bone fide liberal think tanks indicates that while they are certainly outnumbered and outspent by their conservative counterparts they do, in fact, engage in original research and formulate concrete public policy proposals. For instance, the Brookings Institution has put forth a competitive proposal for social security reform. Democrats are not as short of constructive public policy ideas as some may think. The real problem is that Democrat politicians are unable to make effective use of the research and analysis produced by liberal think tanks in the course of developing legislative initiatives.

On the whole, single-issue, special interest groups have relatively little influence in the Republican Party and a great deal of influence in the Democrat Party. Republicans can propose Social Security reforms without having them approved by the AARP. They can legislate tort reform without consulting with the Association of Trial Lawyers of America or the National Bar Association. They can attempt to improve K-12 education without seeking the approval of teachers unions. They can propose and pass the Central American Free Trade Agreement without seeking the approval of the AFL-CIO. They passed an energy bill without consulting with the World Wildlife Federation and Environmental Defense Fund.

Single-issue advocacy groups by their very nature care nothing about the general public interest. They are intent on furthering that one special interest that they passionately care about and care nothing about the harm that may befall others who don't share their interest. Environmental pressure groups are the clearest example of this problem. Some of their proposals would cripple the economy, throw millions of people out of work and increase poverty. They don't care. Teachers unions want their members to be paid more and work less while advancing a left-wing agenda. Don't expect innovative ideas for educational improvement from that source.

Republicans are not without special interest influences. The National Rifle Association and Pro-Life groups are important constituencies. But what about Big Business and corporations? They give about 60% of their donations to the party with the lion's share of power in Washington. Democrats got favorable treatment when they were ruling the roost and now Republicans are getting their turn. Businessmen and business associations have more access and influence during Republican administrations because Republicans want to see the economy thrive, exports grow and American competitiveness increase. You can't remove obstacles to success unless you talk to the people hindered by those obstacles and John Sweeney isn't one of them.

The Democrat Party needs to dramatically move to the center in order to develop innovative, pragmatic, public policy initiatives appealing to the majority of voters. Radical, single-issue special interest groups should be politely shown the door. The Web page of the Progressive Policy Institute demonstrates the good that can come from this. It is unashamedly patriotic and has a genuine interest in fostering economic growth in order to finance programs for the needy. It is a fan of biotechnology and the enormous good it can do by reducing starvation in poor countries and preserving the environment. It may get some things wrong but it is getting a lot of things right. It has a direct channel of communications to the Democratic Leadership Council and a handful of centrist Democrats in Congress. In that regard, it is unobstructed by the special interest groups that hold the rest of the Democrat Party in thrall. It shows where the Democrat Party needs to go in order to be a credible opponent in the war of ideas.

User Friendly Capitalism

Laissez faire, unfettered capitalism, to the extent that it has ever existed, was, in effect unrestricted, total economic warfare. Products, services and political influence were the weapon systems and managers the officers and generals. Markets were the territories in dispute and market segments theaters of war. The goals of big business were the same as the goals of imperialistic wars: conquer the desired territory and exploit its inhabitants.

The ultimate prize was a market monopoly that would allow big businesses to charge all that the traffic could bear for the necessities of life. If competing armies were too numerous and strong to defeat, peace treaties could be negotiated. Prices then could be fixed not through competition but collusion. Geographical markets could be divided up in such a way as to create local monopolies. Foreign economic armies could be kept at bay through high tariffs if you lined the pockets of enough politicians. Why improve quality or lower prices when there was no need to do so? The consumer be damned.

And what of the men, women and children who performed industrial labor? There was a bottomless supply of immigrant humanity that when given the choice between brutal, inhuman working conditions and starvation would choose the former. If they were injured, crippled or killed because of unsafe working conditions they could be easily discarded and replaced. They, along with the consumer, could be squeezed dry in order to maximize profits.

This is an accurate depiction of what Frederick Bastiat called “the natural political economy”. Perpetual competition between large enterprises is as unnatural as perpetual warfare that admits no possibility of victory or negotiated settlement. The idealized depiction of unfettered capitalism retailed by orthodox Libertarian economists envisions a world in which creative entrepreneurs and managers endlessly and voluntarily compete with one another to provide the consumer with more and better for less. This fantasy can only be sustained by ignoring history.

In 1912 a large group of Republicans bolted from their party and created a new one, the National Progressive Party. They ultimately chose Theodore Roosevelt as their Presidential candidate. Regrettably, they lost the election. However, their party platform tells us much about the largely unfettered capitalism of the time.

In the section of the platform entitled “Social and Industrial Justice” it calls for the following:
“The supreme duty of the Nation is the conservation of human resources through an enlightened measure of social and industrial justice. We pledge ourselves to work unceasingly in State and Nation for:

Effective legislation looking to the prevention of industrial accidents, occupational diseases, overwork, involuntary unemployment, and other injurious effects incident to modern industry;

The fixing of minimum safety and health standards for the various occupations, and the exercise of the public authority of State and Nation, including the Federal Control over interstate commerce, and the taxing power, to maintain such standards;

The prohibition of child labor;

Minimum wage standards for working women, to provide a "living wage" in all industrial occupations;

The general prohibition of night work for women and the establishment of an eight hour day for women and young persons;

One day’s rest in seven for all wage workers;

The eight hour day in continuous twenty-four hour industries;

The abolition of the convict contract labor system; substituting a system of prison production for governmental consumption only; and the application of prisoners’ earnings to the support of their dependent families;

Publicity as to wages, hours and conditions of labor; full reports upon industrial accidents and diseases, and the opening to public inspection of all tallies, weights, measures and check systems on labor products;

Standards of compensation for death by industrial accident and injury and trade disease which will transfer the burden of lost earnings from the families of working people to the industry, and thus to the community;

The protection of home life against the hazards of sickness, irregular employment and old age through the adoption of a system of social insurance adapted to American use;

The development of the creative labor power of America by lifting the last load of illiteracy from American youth and establishing continuation schools for industrial education under public control and encouraging agricultural education and demonstration in rural schools;

The establishment of industrial research laboratories to put the methods and discoveries of science at the service of American producers;

We favor the organization of the workers, men and women, as a means of protecting their interests and of promoting their progress.”
The section of the platform concerning business is equally instructive about the economic conditions of the time:
“We believe that true popular government, justice and prosperity go hand in hand, and, so believing, it is our purpose to secure that large measure of general prosperity which is the fruit of legitimate and honest business, fostered by equal justice and by sound progressive laws.

We demand that the test of true prosperity shall be the benefits conferred thereby on all the citizens, not confined to individuals or classes, and that the test of corporate efficiency shall be the ability better to serve the public; that those who profit by control of business affairs shall justify that profit and that control by sharing with the public the fruits thereof.

We therefore demand a strong National regulation of inter-State corporations. The corporation is an essential part of modern business. The concentration of modem business, in some degree, is both inevitable and necessary for national and international business efficiency. But the existing concentration of vast wealth under a corporate system, unguarded and uncontrolled by the Nation, has placed in the hands of a few men enormous, secret, irresponsible power over the daily life of the citizen—a power insufferable in a free Government and certain of abuse.

This power has been abused, in monopoly of National resources, in stock watering, in unfair competition and unfair privileges, and finally in sinister influences on the public agencies of State and Nation. We do not fear commercial power, but we insist that it shall be exercised openly, under publicity, supervision and regulation of the most efficient sort, which will preserve its good while eradicating and preventing its ill.

To that end we urge the establishment of a strong Federal administrative commission of high standing, which shall maintain permanent active supervision over industrial corporations engaged in inter-State commerce, or such of them as are of public importance, doing for them what the Government now does for the National banks, and what is now done for the railroads by the Inter-State Commerce Commission.

Such a commission must enforce the complete publicity of those corporation transactions which are of public interest; must attack unfair competition, false capitalization and special privilege, and by continuous trained watchfulness guard and keep open equally all the highways of American commerce.

Thus the business man will have certain knowledge of the law, and will be able to conduct his business easily in conformity therewith; the investor will find security for his capital; dividends will be rendered more certain, and the savings of the people will be drawn naturally and safely into the channels of trade.

Under such a system of constructive regulation, legitimate business, freed from confusion, uncertainty and fruitless litigation, will develop normally in response to the energy and enterprise of the American business man.

We favor strengthening the Sherman Law by prohibiting agreement to divide territory or limit output; refusing to sell to customers who buy from business rivals; to sell below cost in certain areas while maintaining higher prices in other places; using the power of transportation to aid or injure special business concerns; and other unfair trade practices.”

The dissident Republicans who formed the National Progressive Party in 1912 weren’t Socialists or anticapitalists. Their objective was to declaw and housebreak capitalism; not abolish it.

While Milton Friedman and like-minded economists might argue that free-market competition would over time have ended child labor, 7 day work weeks and 12 hour work days while at the same time increasing workplace safety that will remain forever an untested and unproven theory. Corporations are by nature amoral and self-serving. Corporate management is nevertheless rational and pragmatic. It will comply with the laws and regulations designed to prevent exploitation of workers and consumers if the likelihood of getting caught doing otherwise is high enough and the resulting penalties severe enough.

The objectives of the 1912 National Progressive Party have more than been achieved. Today, American corporations and countless sole proprietorships are amazingly well behaved. Rogue corporations (Enron, Tyco, Adelphi, etc.) are rare and their abuses quickly led to greater regulatory oversight. The enormous creative energy of free enterprise has been effectively harnessed and put to work in the public interest. The continuing decline of the labor union movement is evidence enough of a larger proportion of the workforce believing that it is paid and treated fairly and decently by its employers.

It is therefore difficult for a rational person to fathom the fierce animosity towards large corporations expressed by the base of the Democrat Party. As it cannot be the result of knowledge, it must be the product of ignorance. Orthodox Libertarians on the other hand don't seem to appreciate the fact that contemporary American capitalism is an artificial creation of government. It is virtuous not because it is naturally so but because it is forced to be so.

The question then is not whether capitalists should be kept on a leash but how long or short that leash should be. If the leash is too long, consumers and workers suffer. If the leash is too short they suffer as well. The key to finding optimum leash length is sound public policy aimed at optimizing economic growth without compromising the general welfare. In this regard, neither Progressive paranoia nor Libertarian panglossian fantasies are likely to prove helpful.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Four Keys to National Survival

Our government does many things. There are persuasive arguments that it does too much and opposing arguments claiming it does too little. However, there are four things that a government must do right for a nation to survive and prosper. They are:
  1. Internal Security. Citizen's persons and property must be protected from the human predators that every society spawns. Citizens should feel safe in their homes, workplaces and in public places.
  2. External Security. Government must be able to effectively defend the nation from external threats to its vital interests.
  3. Political Economy. Government must remove obstacles to economic growth while at the same time insuring that neither workers nor consumers are ill-used or exploited in the process.
  4. Accountability. Government must a provide a peaceful means by which it can be changed if it fails meet its fundamental obligations.
Everything else is frosting on the cake -- political luxury items if you will. They are not essential to national survival although they may be very desirable and nice to have.

Is American government doing a good job on the basics of national survival? How to find out? The list of links provided to the right is aimed at helping people figure that out. They are with one exception (Lucianne) links to think tanks or publications that debate and analyze public policy. All but one of the think tanks is either conservative or nonpartisan. The liberal Progressive Policy Institute earned its place because it publishes some very good analysis. It is a "Third Way", centrist Democrat endeavor that does not reject free-market solutions out of hand and it isn't driven by a radical ideology.

Is our foreign policy sound? Does it serve to protect or advance out vital national interests? Is our military sound? Are our defense dollars being well spent and are we spending too much or too little? What can we do to increase employment and alleviate poverty? How can we balance human wants and needs with our desire to conserve or improve the environment? How can we do a better job of growing our economy without doing more harm than good to workers and consumers? While you will not find definitive answers to all of those questions by exploring the links I have provided you will uncover some of the pieces of the puzzle and be exposed to some good ideas of what the rest might look like.

You will find no links to sites involved in the day-to-day partisan mud-wrestling that is offensive to anyone seriously interested in good government. There is nothing useful to be learned from either Paul Krugman or Ann Coulter or Al Franken or Rush Limbaugh when it comes to essential matters of sound public policy. I have little regard for partisan mobs brandishing their torches and pitchforks over issues of little substance or consequence.

Sound public policy can be a matter of life and death. It can be the difference between starvation and food security, chronic illness and health, economic growth and stagnation for many millions of people. Done wrongly it can break a lot of what works and done right it can fix a lot of what is broken. It should be taken seriously.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Closer Look at the Progressive Promise

It is hard to find anyone who can speak with clarity and authority about what self-styled Progressives stand for. An excellent example of this can be found in a mission statement published in the online version of "The Progressive" magazine:
“The mission of The Progressive is to be a journalistic voice for peace and social justice at home and abroad. The magazine, its affiliates, and its staff steadfastly oppose militarism, the concentration of power in corporate hands, the disenfranchisement of the citizenry, poverty, and prejudice in all its guises. We champion peace, social and economic justice, civil rights, civil liberties, human rights, a preserved environment, and a reinvigorated democracy.”
The purr words and catch phrases in this statement might have very specific and concrete meanings to Progressives but they are baffling to those who don't know their secret language. Is there anyone who publically opposes what The Progressive says it is for? Executing convicted murderers is, to me, an example of social justice. Paying people what they are worth is to me an example of economic justice. I am against poverty as well. But I think the best way to fight it is to grow the economy faster than the workforce. And what can The Progressive possibly mean by "a reinvigorated democracy"? Progressive rhetoric in this regard is labile. Its terms and slogans can mean anything you want them to mean.

Recently, the Congressional Progressive Caucus within the Democrat party took its best shot at producing an agenda and set of goals that would in large measure satisfy those who identify themselves as Progressives while at the same time offering the promise of appealing to centrist or mildly left-of-center voters who don't think of themselves as Progressives.

The position statement is entitled "The Progressive Promise: Fairness for All". That sounds nice. For many of us, life at times seems unfair. Children sent to bed before they are inclined to do so are one of many aggrieved parties. People who aren't paid as much as they would like to be paid may be displeased as well. Being passed over for promotion is a particulary irksome form of unfairness when you believe you were the best candidate. Life is filled, bulging to the seams, with perceived unfairness. The promise of fairness for all is the next best thing to a promise of happiness for all and, perhaps, just as empty. Let's take a closer look at how Progressives are going to insure fairness for us all.

THE PROGRESSIVE PROMISE: FAIRNESS FOR ALL

The Congressional Progressive Caucus offers the Progressive Promise for all. We believe in government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Our fairness plan is rooted in our core principles. It also embodies national priorities that are consistent with the values, needs, and hopes of all our people, not just the powerful and the privileged. We pledge our unwavering commitment to these legislative priorities and we will not rest until they become law. (Is there any American who is not a Muslim opposed to government of, by and for the people? )

1. FIGHTING FOR ECONOMIC JUSTICE AND SECURITY IN THE U.S. AND GLOBAL ECONOMIES.

To uphold the right to universal access to affordable, high quality healthcare for all. (There is no such right under the Constitution and it is unclear about how you can provide to everyone an unlimited amount of a scarce resource. Nevertheless, there are working models of universal mediocre healthcare. Canada and Great Britain are superb examples.)

To preserve guaranteed Social Security benefits for all Americans, protect private pensions, and require corporate accountability. (No one is attempting to deny elderly Americans Social Security benefits. You need not protect that which is not threatened. Private pensions are currently protected by a government pension insurance fund. Corporate accountability for what?)
To invest in America and create new jobs in the U.S. by building more affordable housing, re-building America’s schools and physical infrastructure, cleaning up our environment, and improving homeland security. (Public works projects don't create new private sector jobs producing new goods and services. Public housing projects are more of a problem than a solution and how would homeland security be improved?)

To export more American products and not more American jobs and demand fair trade. (We will export more American products if they are cheaper and better than those of foreign competitors. How can government accomplish that? Fair trade is a code word for imposing unaffordable burdens on poor countries that would like to trade more freely with us. Naughty, naughty.)

To reaffirm freedom of association and enforce the right to organize. (We already have the constitutional right to freedom of association and there is no credible threat to that right except, perhaps, for the Boy Scouts of America. Enforce the "right" to organize what?)

To ensure working families can live above the poverty line and with dignity by raising and indexing the minimum wage. (Economic studies show that working class families do not support themselves with minimum wage jobs although a lot of unskilled kids earn spending money by taking them).

2. PROTECTING AND PRESERVING CIVIL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES.

To sunset expiring provisions of the Patriot Act and bring remaining provisions into line with the U. S. Constitution. (No provision of the current version of the Patriot Act has been ruled unconstitutional by a Federal court. The final authority on constitutionality is the Supreme Court; not the Democrat party.)

To protect the personal privacy of all Americans from unbridled police powers and unchecked government intrusion. (What unbridled police powers? What unchecked government intrusion?)

To extend the Voting Rights Act and reform our electoral processes. (Why does the Voting Rights Act need to be extended and what is wrong with our electoral processes?)

To fight corporate consolidation of the media and ensure opportunity for all voices to be heard. (71 cable TV channels, satellite radio and 14 million BLOGS don't allow all voices to be heard? Time to ask Al Gore to demonstrate the Internet.)

To ensure enforcement of all legal rights in the workplace. (Is there a failure to enforce legal rights in the workplace? That's news to me.)

To eliminate all forms of discrimination based upon color, race, religion, gender, creed, disability, or sexual orientation. (You mean I don't get to pick my friends and date who I want? Or is there some form of systematic discrimination in law or business practice that has thus far gone unnoticed by the ACLU?)

3. PROMOTING GLOBAL PEACE AND SECURITY.

To honor and help our overburdened international public servants – both military and civilian. (Progressives are not known for honoring the military and I not sure what an "international public servant is". Please explain.)

To bring U. S. troops home from Iraq as soon as possible. (As soon as possible is when Iraqi security forces can put down the current insurgency without our help. That is already our policy. Another word for it is "winning".)

To re-build U.S. alliances around the world, restore international respect for American power and influence, and reaffirm our nation’s constructive engagement in the United Nations and other multilateral organizations. (Condolezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton are more than capable of doing that. )

To enhance international cooperation to reduce the threats posed by nuclear proliferation and weapons of mass destruction. (I thought we were already doing that.)

To increase efforts to combat hunger and the scourge of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other infectious diseases. (The Bush administration is already doing that in spite of environmentalist opposition.)

To encourage debt relief for poor countries and support efforts to reach the UN’s Millennium Goals for Developing Countries. (Too late, the Bush Administration is already doing that. However, we determine our goals; not the U.N.)

Fairness for all then entails protecting that which is not threatened, doing what is already being done, forbidding that which is already forbidden, squandering money on public works projects in the futile hope that they will contribute to economic growth while raising the minimum wage and figuring out how to achieve the impossible: providing everyone with more medical services than are available or affordable.

The document is long on solving problems that exist only in the fevered imaginations of the left and profoundly short of concrete proposals aimed at solving real problems. It is in the final analysis, vacuous and little more than a concatenation of high-minded slogans that on closer examination prove to be meaningless. While it may make Progressives wiggly and excited it has little appeal to the average American. Better luck next time.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Portrait of a Compassionate Environmentalist



One of the most striking features of the environmentalist movement leadership is its callous and psychopathic disregard for human suffering. Consider the following:

We have wished, we ecofreaks, for a disaster or for a social change to come and bomb us into Stone Age, where we might live like Indians in our valley, with our localism, our appropriate technology, our gardens, our homemade religion—guilt-free at last!

—Stewart Brand (writing in the Whole Earth Catalogue).

Free Enterprise really means rich people get richer. They have the freedom to exploit and psychologically rape their fellow human beings in the process…. Capitalism is destroying the earth.

—Helen Caldicott, Union of Concerned Scientists

We must make this an insecure and inhospitable place for capitalists and their projects…. We must reclaim the roads and plowed land, halt dam construction, tear down existing dams, free shackled rivers and return to wilderness millions of tens of millions of acres of presently settled land.

—David Foreman, Earth First!

If you ask me, it’d be a little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it. We ought to be looking for energy sources that are adequate for our needs, but that won’t give us the excesses of concentrated energy with which we could do mischief to the earth or to each other.

—Amory Lovins in The Mother Earth–Plowboy Interview, Nov/Dec 1977, p.2

The only real good technology is no technology at all. Technology is taxation without representation, imposed by our elitist species (man) upon the rest of the natural world.

—John Shuttleworth

I suspect that eradicating smallpox was wrong. It played an important part in balancing ecosystems.

—John Davis, editor of Earth First! Journal

Human beings, as a species, have no more value than slugs.

—John Davis, editor of Earth First! Journal

The extinction of the human species may not only be inevitable but a good thing....This is not to say that the rise of human civilization is insignificant, but there is no way of showing that it will be much help to the world in the long run.

—Economist editorial

Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental.

—Dave Forman, Founder of Earth First!

If radical environmentalists were to invent a disease to bring human populations back to sanity, it would probably be something like AIDS

—Earth First! Newsletter

Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, is not as important as a wild and healthy planet…Some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.

—David Graber, biologist, National Park Service

The collective needs of non-human species must take precedence over the needs and desires of humans.

—Dr. Reed F. Noss, The Wildlands Project

If I were reincarnated, I would wish to be returned to Earth as a killer virus to lower human population levels.

—Prince Phillip, World Wildlife Fund

Cannibalism is a “radical but realistic solution to the problem of overpopulation.”

—Lyall Watson, The Financial Times, 15 July 1995

We, in the green movement, aspire to a cultural model in which killing a forest will be considered more contemptible and more criminal than the sale of 6-year-old children to Asian brothels.

—Carl Amery

To feed a starving child is to exacerbate the world population problem.

—Lamont Cole

The only hope for the world is to make sure there is not another United States: We can’t let other countries have the same number of cars, the amount of industrialization, we have in the U.S. We have to stop these Third World countries right where they are. And it is important to the rest of the world to make sure that they don’t suffer economically by virtue of our stopping them.

—Michael Oppenheimer, Environmental Defense Fund

It is important to distinguish between people who have warm and fuzzy feelings about the biosphere and are concerned about the effects of human activity and those whose principle occupation and source of income are derived from environmental activism. Buying biodegradable laundry detergent does not an environmentalist make. Taking at face value the bogus claims of the World Wildlife Federation, Green Peace and the Environmental Defense Fund does not make you an environmentalist any more than reading the Wall Street Journal makes you a capitalist. Those sitting in the stands cheering their team are quite distinct from the players struggling to move the ball down the field. The environmentalist team, on the whole, regards humanity as a malignant infestation that should either be eradicated completely or reduced to insignificant and inconsequential numbers. The more infant mortality the better. The more poverty the better. The more disease the better. Famine and pestilence? Bring them on!

Savoring the notion of human extinction may be a loathesome, antihuman fantasy but engaging in mass murder is another thing altogether. If you pass the following multiple choice test you will understand this distinction.

The greatest mass murderer of the 20th century was:

a. Joseph Stalin
b. Adolph Hitler
c. Pol Pot
d. Saddam Hussein
e. Mao Zedong
f. William Ruckelhaus
The correct answer is f, William Ruckelhaus. Acting on behalf of the environmental movement he is directly responsible for the majority of 89 million avoidable deaths from disease. Hitler and Stalin together accomplished less in terms of mass murder and inflicting human suffering. In order to understand who died, why they needlessly died, how those deaths could have been prevented and the spectacular butcher's bill of the environmentalist movement you should thoroughly study the arguments made here: malaria facts. Make sure javascript is on so you can envision people dying while you browse.

While you can kill tens of millions of impoverished Africans by denying them an effective means to control malaria you can kill many more by denying them clean water and continue to starve them by denying them the irrigation that would make their subsistence farm plots more productive. In this regard the environmentalist movement has been extraordinarily successful. It has in some measure delayed or defeated countless dam projects that would have provided clean water, irrigation and electrical power to millions of third world subsistence farmers who face starvation in lean years and don't do all that well in good ones. The monumental and inhuman cruelty of it all is staggering.

There is however, one leader in the environmental movement who truly and deeply cares about both the environment and the most needy and impoverished people in the world and who strives to find a practical balance in dealing with both. His name is Bjorn Lomborg and he is the author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist" -- a book everyone with an open mind and a concern about the environment should read. While the rigorous and well-documented critique of environmentalist claims found in this book are rightfully open to honest and well-reasoned debate it should be clear to every reader that Lomborg is no less sensitive to needless human suffering than he is to environmental concerns. His exquisite sense of balancing human environmental wants and needs with basic human wants and needs is admirable. He has been vilified and physically assaulted by mainstream environmentalists but nevertheless stands his ground. Throwing food and screaming insults are, to radicals and fanatics, forms of intelligent discourse.

While "The Skeptical Environmentalist" was a much needed antidote to hysterical environmentalist propaganda, Lomborg may, in time, achieve more good for humanity by advancing what he calls the "Copenhagen Consensus". That consensus is the product of bringing together a goodly number of first-class minds that worked together to find ways in which rich countries could best spend the money they were willing to spend in order to alleviate human suffering in impoverished and developing countries.

You don't have to be a genocidal monster to be a leader in the environmentalist movement although that is more often than not helpful. In that regard, Bjorn Lomborg demonstrates how to be a humane, rational and decent environmentalist. He is a Green while I am not. He is a European social democrat and I am far from that. But he remains one of my personal heroes. He should be one of yours as well.

The Scrooge McDuck Fallacy

I recall Ann Coulter putting it very well when she said that Democrats were convinced that somewhere in America there is a hidden room containing vast quantities of self-renewing wealth that was serving no constructive purpose. If only Democrats could find it, and, like the good little Robin Hoods they aspire to be, distribute it to the needy. I think of this as the Scrooge McDuck Fallacy.

Scrooge McDuck was the enormously rich uncle of Huey, Dewey and Louie and he took great pleasure in cavorting in a huge swimming pool filled with some 30 cubic acres of lucre. Scrooge was both shameless and miserly. As a child I rather liked him and had enough sense to realize that rich people put their money into the bank or invested it just like ordinary folks putting away something for the future. Apparently some children couldn't figure this out and grew up to be Democrats.

The rich enjoy a very high standard of living. They get to buy expensive cars, live in expensive houses, have vacation properties, buy nice things and employ others to look after them and their children. However, those expenditures typically entail very small fractions of their net worth. Grostesque levels of conspicuous consumption are rare among those who have earned their wealth or they are prevented by trust fund managers controlling and conserving inherited wealth. The rare exceptions are more often than not entertainers. Michael Jackson's Neverland fantasy world is probably the most flagrant example of the self-indulgent squandering of wealth that you can find in America.

Estimates of John Kerry's wife's wealth range between $800 million and one billion dollars. Teresa likes to live well and certainly isn't inclined to forgo purchasing what she wants out of a misguided thriftiness. Nevertheless, it is very likely that she spends less than 1% of her net worth a year to pay for her life style. The other 99% or more of her fortune isn't hidden in a secret room or filling a huge swimming pool in the basement of one of her residences. It has been skillfully invested by professional money managers and is very likely producing a good return that more than covers her life-style expenditures.

In order to fulfill their Robin Hood fantasies Democrats are determined to confiscate a larger portion of what rich people earn. This in turn will reduce the amount they invest in the economy which in turn will lead to lower growth. If Democrats confiscate enough investment capital they can cripple the economy. We need look no further than France, Sweden and Germany in order to see that you can kill the duck laying all of those wonderful golden eggs that were once taken for granted.

Thank God for the rich (Michael Jackson, Paris Hilton and miscellaneous others excepted). Let's express our appreciation for the enormous good they do for us all by cutting their taxes. They will invest more and we will benefit along with them.

God Bless Air America

Conservatives are inclined to ridicule Air America and take pleasure in imagining it folding some day due to lack of audience. They should instead regard Air America as a blessing because it reveals the true nature of the left. This is in sharp contrast to PBS, NPR, CBS, the New York and Los Angeles Times masquerading as objective news organizations while slyly doing their best to advance a left-wing agenda.

Conservative talk radio, at its best, is a mixture of political ridicule, criticism, analysis and positive messages about America that reaffirm mainstream, majority values and attitudes. While Air America can serve up a heaping portion of negativism it is incapable of tempering that message with positive assertions that have broad appeal. In order to keep its audience happy, Air America commentators should say nothing positive about any of the following:
Anything the Bush administration says or does.
America’s armed forces.
Police and law enforcement agencies.
Entrepreneurs and business leaders.
The economy.
Events in Iraq.
Condolezza Rice and American foreign policy.
Christianity.
Anything enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Bush.
Gun ownership.
Free enterprise.
Full-time mothers.
Heterosexual marriage.
Hunting and fishing.
SUVs.
Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and dead white men in general.
The Boy Scouts.
Western civilization.
Patriotism.

At the same time Air America commentators should avoid saying anything that the Democrat coalition of radical, single-issue constituencies might find offensive and those constituencies are very, very easily offended. Trapped in a rhetorical straightjacket, Air America can do little more than recite an unending litany of bitter complaints in the course of promoting a consistently negative image of America. If, at the end of listening to a Rush Limbaugh broadcast, you feel optimistic and proud to be an American Limbaugh has done his job well. If, at the end of an Al Franken broadcast, you feel pessimistic and ashamed to be an American Franken has done his job well.

Air America provides a very valuable service to conservatives because it gives the politically curious but uncommitted an easy way to compare Left and Right. Those who are turned on by Air America are beyond redemption while those who are turned off are potential grist for the conservative mill. God bless Air America.

Monday, August 01, 2005

China's Military Buildup

Today I read "China's Military Faces the Future" edited by John R. Lilley and David Shambaugh. I also read "The Chinese Armed Forces in the 21st Century" edited by Larry M. Wortzel. I did so because of a recent story by Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz that claimed that the People's Republic of China would be in a position to successfully invade Taiwan two years from now and might very well do so. You can find this and other scarey stories here: Gertz Stories.

Experts on the subject of China's military capabilities now and for the foreseeable future agree on a number of important points. The first of those is that China lacks the high-tech military-industrial base needed to advance the state of the art in weapons systems. The best that China can currently do is buy weapons produced by other countries. Some of those weapons are very good indeed as weapons are the only high-quality manufactured products that have been available from the former USSR and current Russian Federation. Our good friend, Israel, given the choice between respecting our strategic interests or selling high-tech weapons to China has chosen the latter. Vile France, Perfidious Albion along with Italy and Germany have declining defense industries in desperate need of foreign customers and, in the absence of national interests in East Asia, are eager to sell to China. The only limit on the PRC's ability to acquire and deploy first-class, high-tech weaponry is the size of its defense budget.

While China can cobble together a formidable list of competitive weapons it is missing one critical piece of the puzzle: the digital command, control, communications and information systems (C3I) that give America its decisive advantage in land, air and sea operations. Chinese military strategists are accutely aware of this deficiency and some call for the development of systems of asymmetrical warfare that would neutralize America's C3I advantage. This type of thinking is called RMA for "Revolution in Military Affairs" and argues that given relative parity in weapons, personnel and training you can defeat an enemy by incapacitating its C3I capabilities. However, this is far easier said than done and you don't know whether your secret C3I neutralizers work until you try them.

On paper, China will, if not in two years, by end of this decade have enough high-tech military hardware to theoretically challenge America in the air and sea space essential to Taiwan's security. However, it will lack the high-tech C3I systems it needs to orchestrate a successful war. In the final analysis, it is not ship against ship, airplane against airplane and man against man. It is war-fighting system against war-fighting system. After two wars with Iraq where American forces were nominally outnumbered 3 to 1 this is abundantly clear to Chinese military planners. The correlation of forces, the traditional inventory list of military formations and weapons systems, can, at best, furnish a raw bill of materials. It will tell you nothing about how those raw materials are fashioned into a single coherent theater weapon system.

Chinese military diplomacy has two goals: securing access to current military products and technology and weakening military alliances between America and friendly nations in Asia and the Western Pacific. While China has had great success in achieving the former, it has had much less success in the latter. China has maritime territorial disputes with too many of its neighbors and if it attempts to resolve any of them through force it will quickly find itself balanced by defensive alliances with the U.S. The recent 10-year military cooperation agreement between India and America was in this regard a major setback.

The liklihood of an American war with China depends entirely on whether Chinese military and political leaders realistically assess relative military strengths and weaknesses. If they get it wrong, there may be a war. If they get it right there won't be one. Thus far, they have been more realistic than arrogant. Let us pray that this continues to be the case.

"China's Military Faces the Future" edited by John R. Lilley and David Shambaugh is available from Amazon for the bargain price of $92.50 a copy. Much of what it asserts is available above at my favorite price.