Saturday, December 31, 2005

Bush: "I broke the law? Find the whistleblowers!"

So the illegal wiretaps bypassing the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) are so grave that FISA court judge James Robertson resigns in protest:
The action by U.S. District Judge James Robertson stemmed from deep concern that the surveillance program that Bush authorized was legally questionable and may have tainted the work of the court that Robertson resigned from, the newspaper said in Wednesday's editions.
Robertson was one of 11 members of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees government applications for secret surveillance or searches of foreigners and U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism or espionage.

Quoting colleagues of Robertson, the Post said the judge had indicated he was concerned that information gained from the warrantless surveillance under Bush's program subsequently could have been used to obtain warrants under the FISA program.
How does Bush respond? By launching an inquiry into the people who leaked the story to the media of course:
"The Justice Department has opened an investigation of the unauthorized disclosure of classified information related to the NSA," a Justice Department official told CNN.
It's a classic Bush move. For more facts, don't miss the debunking of 12 media myths propegated by the Bush supporters, including these:
  • Timeliness necessitated bypassing the FISA court
  • Congress was adequately informed of -- and approved -- the administration's actions

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Death Penalty

This story shows how Europeans differ from Americans in their views on the death penalty:
Arnold Schwarzenegger's name has been expunged from the websites of his Austrian hometown in the latest chapter of the row over the US death penalty.
Local politicians berated Mr Schwarzenegger - one of Graz's most famous sons - after he refused to pardon a prominent US death row inmate.
Graz assembly members condemned Mr Schwarzenegger's support for the death penalty, which is illegal in Austria.
By contrast, even the American liberal (although super-moderate) blogger Kevin Drum is not opposed to the death penalty in principle:
I'm not opposed to the death penalty qua death penalty, but I long ago became convinced that it was impossible to administer fairly or reliably and thus should be abandoned.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Sullivan: 2005 - Accountability at Last

A truly great essay by Andrew Sullivan. Money quote:
Democracy is rooted in the impertinent belief that our rulers are no better than we are and that they are answerable always. We're occasionally amazed to discover that people who are used to power forget that. That's why, every now and again, we have to remind them. In that sense, 2005 was a great year for democracy. Because it was reborn this time after the votes were counted.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Why Americans Trust Republicans

Over at Andrew's blog, Ross Douthat makes a point about Bush's wiretapping that prominent Democrats should think long and hard about:
[It is] almost always better to be tagged as "the party that might go too far" than as "the party that won't go far enough" - which is how the Democrats are perceived these days. This explains why the GOP can weather controversy after controversy, from Iran-Contra down through Iraq War intelligence and the secret prisons and CIA waterboarding, and still hang on to the public trust on foreign affairs - because in each case, they're perceived as having gone too far with good intentions, 24-style, and in an arena that most Americans perceive as being slightly outside the law anyway.
White Americans in the "heartland" vote Republican because it is the "patriotic" thing to do. A little torturing here and some illegal wiretapping there is only going to make them respect Bush and Cheney even more. "Making the world a better place" is just not a vote-winner in today's America.

Monday, December 19, 2005


Holy cow - conservative uber-blogger actually seems to feel bad about his role as a defender of Bush's torture policies:
GREG DJEREJIAN chides me on the torture issue, and I have to say that he makes a strong case.
Who says conservative Bush-apologists can't do the right thing? It just takes them a while.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Europeans and Innovation

Unfortunately the really don't get it:
legislation [has been] proposed by the European Commission that would criminalize all intellectual property infringements, including patents.
I agree with Atrios:
Innovators generally don't work in isolation, they build upon previous work. In fact, part of the patent bargain is that in exchange for getting temporary monopoly rights to the use of your innovation you have to make public just what that innovation is. Patent issues are almost never 100% clear and any inventor is potentially going to be inadvertently violating patents. If they do it make sense that they should have to compensate the original patent holder, but criminalizing such activity would put half the tech community, including the makers of Blackberry, in jail.
Americans have a much more fluid notion of what "the law" is. The upside of the European tendency to respect the law is that people don't try to cheat the system as much as Americans do. The downside is that innovation and entrepreneurship can be stifled by Europeans who have too much respect for bogus laws, companies and bureaucrats.

Another great example involving patent laws is the "first-to-file" versus "first-to-innovate" rule. In patents class in college I learned that in Europe the patent protection system is built around the "first-to-file" system. A files a patent for invention X, then B comes around and says he invented X before A did. In Europe B is out of luck. In America the patent agency will consider the evidence and award the patent to B if the evidence holds up. The American system favors inventors, even if they don't have access to a lot of resources. The European system favors powerful organizations.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Norwegian Boards: Get 40% Women Directors or Dissolve

Starting January 2006 the Norwegian government will require all publicly listed companies to have 40% female representation on the Board of Directors or risk steep fines or outright dissolution. (Norwegian article).

My take: You think Ted Kennedy is a liberal? He's a ultra-conservative fascist compared to the center-left coalition that currently runs Norway!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Why America Beats Europe at Integrating Immigrants

The Economist hits the nail on the head (subscription only article):
Work is the archetypal social activity. It provides friends and contacts beyond your family or ethnic group. If you start your own company, it pulls you further into the society around you. And here is a striking difference between Europe and America. Unemployment in France is almost 10%. Among immigrants or the children of immigrants, it is at least twice and sometimes four times as high. In contrast, unemployment among legal immigrants in America is negligible, and business ownership is off the scale compared with Europe.

The second big motor of integration is home-ownership, especially important in the second and third generations. This gives people a stake in society, something they can lose. Thanks to cheap mortgages and an advanced banking system, half of Latinos in America own their own homes. Britain, after its council-house sales and property booms, also encourages house ownership. In contrast, most of the blocks in the French banlieues are publicly owned.

Between them, a job and a house help to create not only more integration but also greater social mobility. Latinos supported America's turn towards assimilation because they feared the trap of Spanish-language ghettos. But the banlieues are full of people who have grown up without jobs, or any hope of getting a better income or a better place to live. For them, integration is a deceit, not a promise.

A job and a house will not solve everything. The father of one of the July 7th London bombers owned two shops, two houses and a Mercedes. But if you want to know why second- and third-generation immigrants integrate more in some countries than others, jobs and houses are a good place to start.
Having lived half my life in Europe and the other half in America has led me to the same conclusion. I have never met an immigrant to Europe who speaks of his new home with as much respect, gratitude and admiration as many first and second generation Americans do.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Bruce Bawer: Not all Muslims want to integrate

Our friend Bruce Bawer has a new piece out, this time about the state of Muslim immigrants in Europe (via Andrew Sullivan):
A government report leaked last March depicted an increasingly two-track educational system: More and more Muslim students refuse to sing, dance, participate in sports, sketch a face, or play an instrument. They won't draw a right angle (it looks like part of the Christian cross). They won't read Voltaire and Rousseau (too antireligion), Cyrano de Bergerac (too racy), Madame Bovary (too pro-women), or Chrétien de Troyes (too chrétien). One school has separate toilets for "Muslims" and "Frenchmen"; another obeyed a Muslim leader's call for separate locker rooms because "the circumcised should not have to undress alongside the impure."
I've heard similar stories from friends in Norway who work in the military or the school system (some Oslo schools have "ghetto-like" immigrant populations). Tales of separate showers, lockers and kitchens (where pots are not stained by pork), and refusal to participate in ordinary school activities. Clearly this can't go on.

I am a Norwegian living in America and I am offended by many things American. But my choices are clear; I either put up, leave, or work to change things in a constructive manner. (This blog is partially an attempt at the latter.) The same should go for Muslims in Europe. Therefore I support Bawer's conclusion:
It's a war authorities can't afford to lose. By accepting separatism, Europe is becoming a house divided against itself. Governments must take a firm, aggressive, integration- oriented line - must, among other things, end separate treatment in schools and turn welfare recipients into workers. Above all, they must stand alongside Muslims who wish to integrate - not those who seek to colonize. And they must hope - and pray - that it isn't already too late.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Jews, Asians and College Admissions

College quotas: Matt thinks Asians are "the new Jews".

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Why We Went To War

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers nails it:
Speaking of sand in people's eyes, check your own. How on God's green earth, after all that's been made public, can you still write "I have yet to be even nearly convinced that Plamegate reveals some massive conspiracy to deceive the public in advance about the rationale for the Iraq war"?

Read Barton Gellman's piece in the WaPo this morning, "A Leak, Then a Deluge." Can you honestly say after reading this that the issue of the Niger yellowcake was the fault of the intelligence community? Show me where you make that case.

Every single fact points to the American intelligence community (and others) fighting to establish the falsity of the yellowcake claims, and to the administration's insistence on including those claims despite repeated clear indications that they were false.

Why would they do that? Are they that stupid? No. They knew the reports were bogus. Same as the aluminum tubes. Same as the Iraq-al Qeada connection. But they were good enough: in the fog of events, they would serve the purpose. Get the country into war, and then justify the war by 1) success, and 2) holding up whatever old WMD they found still remaining from 1991. In the blazing glory of that Roman triumph, all those inconvenient prewar details would be forgotten. Only, it didn't turn out that way, did it? There has been no success -- at least, no clear-cut glorious victory. There were no old stockpiles of WMD. Shock. Dismay. Why do you think they spent umpty-odd bazillion dollars searching for those old WMD, yet could not manage to secure known ammo dumps? Priorities.

Andrew, face it: they conned us into this war. Maybe the war was worth fighting. Saddam was a bastard. But that's not the issue. The issue is our democracy. The issue is America. We cannot run this country on lies, secrecy and manipulation. Fitzgerald just made the most eloquent argument for truth as the basis of our justice system, and therefore the gravity and necessity of indictments on perjury and obstruction. Apply his arguments to our political system. They are exactly the same. Without truth we are done for. We're on the long slide down into darkness."
Kudos to Andrew for posting this, even though his own response (not included above) is near worthless.

"Plamegate" update, post "Fitzmas"

I thought I had a good grasp of this whole "Plamegate" affair, but I just learned two things that threw me for a loop:
  1. Turns out that Libby & Co. did not out a covert agent, in spite of repeated such claims by Larry Johnson (mostly here) and other ex-CIA people. According to blogger Steve quoted by Kevin Drum the law has very specific definiton of covert:
    A present or retired officer or employee of an intelligence agency...whose identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information, and who is serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States.
    So, since Valerie Plame moved back to the US in 1997 her outing was not technically covered. The Limbaugh-style conservative punditry was right and liberals like me were wrong. Luckily there's still obstruction and perjury of course, as the Bill Clinton impeachment trials showed those can be two powerful sticks to use when humiliating a president.

  2. Turns out that all the grandstanding by the NYT and WaPo over Judith Millers stint in prison was rather pointless as well. I support freedom of the press as much as the next liberal, but as Matthew Yglesias points out this wasn't about the right to protect the identity of sources. Rather, what happened was that "Libby himself described to investigators the contents of discussions he'd had with some journalists. Fitzgerald had doubts about the accuracy of that description, hence his desire to hear testimony from journalists." That puts the whole case in an entirely different perspective. Matt sums it up well:
    The principle that journalists should be able to acquire information from sources while keeping the identity of the sources confidential is an important one. The alleged principle that journalists should be able to keep the content of what their sources tell them secret is silly. That's not a principle at all. The whole point of having sources is to relay what they told you. A source who's already outed himself as your source can't have any reasonable expectation that you'll conceal what he told you. That doesn't make any sense.
    And as this case shows, it certainly isn't in the interest of the public.
UPDATE: A "what now, Valerie" story from WaPo.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Weblog Top Ten Design Mistakes

A useful list of suggestions, summarized here. I'm going to try to implement them.
  1. No author biography (a lack of a descriptive ?About? page)
  2. No author photo
  3. Nondescript posting titles (no microcontent)
  4. Links don?t say where they go (link text such as ?here? or ?there?)
  5. Classic hits are buried (no chance for newcomers to find popular posts)
  6. The calendar is the only navigation (no categories)
  7. Irregular publishing frequency
  8. Mixing topics (not becoming a niche blogger and expert of a chosen field)
  9. Forgetting that you write for your future boss (flames/ rants don?t look too good once your prospective employer googles you)
  10. Having a domain name owned by a weblog service

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Gruber of MIT: Religion is Good for You

Via Andrew Sullivan, a post quoting a paper by MIT professor Jonathan Gruber that looks at the number of religious people around you to find out if you'll be "better off":
"People living in an area with a higher density of co-religionists have higher incomes, they are less likely to be high school dropouts, and more likely to have a college degree."
His new findings about religion seem both provocative and common-sensical at the same time. It reminds me of how I felt in Labor Economics class back at MIT when he presented this question about higher education: Do people actually learn anything in college, or are college degrees simply a "filtering mechanism" - a way to distinguish those with ability and good backgrounds from everybody else?

Now here's a thought: Perhaps Americans get through religion what Europeans get through shared ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This "togetherness" might serve Europeans in ways similar to how Gruber thinks religion serves Americans:
Although this paper does not investigate the mechanism through which religiosity creates these results, Gruber suggests four possibilities: that religious attendance increases the number of social interactions in a way peculiar to religious settings; that religious institutions provide financial and emotional "insurance" that help people mitigate their losses when setbacks occur; that attendance at religious schools may be an advantage; and, finally, that religious faith may simply improve well-being directly by enabling the faithful to be "less stressed out" by the problems of every day life.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Norway's New Center-Right Cabinet 47% Female

Here is a picture series with bios. 9 of the 19 ministers are women. Four members are from the rural/farming oriented Center Party, five are from the Socialist Party, including the Finance Minister. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and the remaining ministers are from the social-democratic Labor Party.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Lessons from Vietnam

Three scary lessons:
In Vietnam we learned after it was over that about one third of those we armed and trained were actually in the Viet Cong Army. This meant surprise operations were impossible and a significant part of our force was actually on the other side. There is every reason to believe that this is true now in Iraq.
In Vietnam, another roughly one third of the trainees in the Republic of Vietnam's army (ARVN) would quickly take the weapons they were given and sell them on the black market. In Iraq we again see signs of the same thing with large desertion levels and US weapons showing up in insurgency hands.
The remaining ARVN troops, neither secretly the enemy or ready to desert and sell what they had been given, were in it for the pay and for the prestige and the opportunity to plunder. It was no wonder that despite years of training and the provision of equipment far superior to the enemy the ARVN was never capable of winning either the guerrilla war or the full scale battles that marked the final stages of the conflict. This was not for lack of training but for lack of commitment.

Take that, George F. Will!

Matt is in rare form:
America's private sector welfare state is, indeed, breaking down. But our public sector one isn't breaking down. It's being bankrupted as a matter of deliberate public policy by officials who want to wreck it in order to better afford tax cuts for extremely wealthy individuals. This is also destroying our car industry and it's all very outrageous. But to pretend that nefarious 'globalization' is responsible for it all is absurd. Universal health care is a staple of much more trade-dependent countries than the United States. Nothing is stopping us from doing it except the George Wills of the world.
Found a nice chart that shows how America is overpaying for its healthcare (click to enlarge):

Sunday, October 16, 2005

New design

I finally got around to changing the default blogspot template.  More content updates and a new “mission statement” soon to come.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Clark in Alabama

Looks like my man Clark is getting serious about the South:
"It comes down to a common morality," Clark said. "We believe in helping people. We believe in lifting people up. What does the other side believe in? They want to tell you that morality is only about sex, so they talk about gays. They talk about abortion. And they tell us, 'Greed is good.'"

Amid growing applause, he continued, "They stand for bettering individuals at the expense of everybody else. In the Democratic Party, we stand for the common good. Those are values Americans and Alabamians can understand."
Looks like he's spent the last year honing his presentation skills. He should be a serious contender for 2008.

Monday, October 10, 2005

GOP Successes Explained

There's a great discussion at Washington Monthly started by Kevin. It features a pair of guest bloggers who wrote Off Center. From the initial post:
we think a central source of GOP success lies in the unprecedented (within the contours of modern American politics) capacity of conservative elites to coordinate their activities and operate in a unified fashion.

In a political system that was specifically designed to prevent unified action, coordination is an enormous political advantage, helping the GOP to get the maximum value out of many of the advantages mentioned in Friday’s discussion. It makes it far easier to control the agenda (which is crucial in politics), to stay on message, to use legislative procedure (as well as even more obscure elements of policymaking) to pursue off-center goals while presenting a more moderate face to the public, to divide opponents, and to protect potentially vulnerable Republicans from exposure—as well as shower them with cash if all else fails. The capacity to work in an unusually unified way allows GOP elites to provide what we call backlash insurance—a variety of protections to politicians who might otherwise feel a need to be more responsive to public opinion.
Check back with them later in the week too.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Life in Georgia

The AJC points out that Governor Sonny Perdue's decision to close the schools when Rita struck may have been influenced by oil and farm industry lobbyists. And how do the people of Georgia respond? With overwhelming support for the Governor of course. Commenter Scott, for instance, thinks we should go even further:
I applaud Sonny’s decision and think he did what was best for the state of Georgia and set an example of how states can help the country during this time of crisis. Too many people are trying to make too much out of this. Personally, I think we need to go ahead and add two hours to each school day and switch to a four day school week. That will not only save gas but it will also save on heating all those school buildings this winter and after listening to WSB Radio’s report this morning on rising natural gas prices will also help the state and the country.
Of course, some people are always out to spoile the fun:
The Governor is clueless, the President is blank, our tanks are on empty, and Georgia’s educational system is at the bottom of the barrel. I can’t wait for my children to hurry up and graduate (from private school) so that I can finally leave this backward state.

Any way you slice this mess, right or wrong, Republicans will blindly justify, anything, to protect their beloved party. It is scarey to think that the differences between terriorists abroad with their one mind mindset, justification of everything in the name of religion is pretty similar to the tactics that the Republicans are using here. I used to really respect Republicans for their sense of fairness, personal and financial responsibility.
Luckily, the "patriots" know how to stand up for themselves:
If you don’t like this “backward” state, GET OUT! No one is begging you to stay. Who do you think you are? We don’t need people like you here anyway. Anyone who compares the Republican Party to terrorists is sick. I am proud to be a Georgian. We should want to support the Governor and his decision in this time of crisis. Thank you to our farmers for working so hard and rarely getting any recognition or support from its citizens.
What's not to love about Georgia??

Monday, October 03, 2005

Liberal-Conservative Scale: RIP

I guess I should write something about Harriet Miers but I have absolutely nothing to say. So instead I'll say something about "scales" - specifically, the scale which has liberal on one side and conservative on the other. It occurred to me, as I was reading about Andrew Sullivan being labelled a "prominent liberal", that Bush has rendered the liberal-conservative scale completely meaningless. As Andrew says:
As to the term "prominent liberal," well, I think it tells you more about what has happened to conservatism than what has happened to me. I am now and long have been for small government, low taxes, a balanced budget, welfare reform, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, a flat tax, states' rights, and an increase in defense spending. I believe abortion and affirmative action are immoral and would have voted in dissent on Roe vs Wade. I'm a believing Christian. Right now, that makes you a "prominent liberal."
I propose we forget about the whole liberal-conservative thing and judging politicians as either "idealistic" or "pragmatic", where idealistic means you want to improve things and pragmatic means you don't care about anything but your own survival and legacy. A staunchly anti-government Republican who wants to abolish K-street and a young Democrat who wants to end world hunger would both be idealists, whereas Bush, Rove and most corporate executives and business lobbyists would be pragmatists.

Of course, then you have people like candidate Rudy Giuliani who, unlike Bush, has a reputation for being competent. So maybe the pragmatist is really at the middle of the scale, and the incompetent and feudal-lord-ish Bush is really a crony capitalist at the extreme end of the scale.

Clearly this new scale needs some more work. But I really think I'm onto something here. You just know that Bush Jr. would never, ever, in a million years set up something like the Clinton Global Initiative. But Bush Sr., James Baker and John McCain might. So what is the quality that separates people like Bush Jr., Karl Rove and Tom DeLay from people like Clinton, Bush Sr. and James Baker? It is certainly much more important than whether somebody is liberal or conservative. I'll take a competent conservative president over an incompetent and cronyist liberal equivalent to George Bush Jr. any day. And I suspect many other moderate liberals feel the same way.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bush: A modern-day fascist?

Via Andrew Sullivan, this column from Marshall Auerback is just too juicy to ignore:
The reconstruction of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama provides a fascinating picture of how the Bush administration actually works. His government represents an odd melding of corporatism and cronyism, more in tune with the workings of 1930s Italy or Spain. In fact, if one looks at fascist regimes of the 20th century, it is appears that the Bush administration draws more from these sources than traditional conservatism. Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:
  1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

  2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of 'need.' The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

  3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

  4. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

  5. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

  6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

  7. Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

  8. Religion and Government are intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

  9. Corporate Power is protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

  10. Labor Power is suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

  11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

  12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

  13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

  14. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

(Source: The Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism, Dr. Lawrence Britt, Spring 2003, Free Inquiry)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Katrina and Iran

Andrew Sullivan points out that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have noticed Katrina:
"If the U.S. attacks Iran, each of America’s states will face a crisis the size of Katrina", he said, referring to the massive hurricane which hit the southern coast of the United States. "The smallest mistake by America in this regard will result in every single state in that country turning into a disaster zone".

Bush and Responsibility

Here are some excellent thoughts from a couple of Kevin Drum's commenters. First "cowalker" answering Kevin's question about the extent to which Presidents take responsibility:
I can't cite quotes, but I always got the feeling that Abraham Lincoln felt deeply responsible for his decision to fight a war to prevent the South's secession. I felt as though he actually engaged in soul-searching.

The thing is, I don't really care much about public breast-beating. It's more important to me that a leader recognize his/her mistakes in the privacy of his/her own mind, and correct them in the future! I don't think Bush is capable of this.

In my opinion, Bush is just reciting what Rove told him to say. Bush has no idea what he did that led to the tragic failure of FEMA to deal with the Katrina emergency. He does not understand that the "good people" he relies on to inform him of critical problems are partisan ideologues with poor qualifications. They have their own agenda. They just want to keep him pacified while they use him as a guy-you'd-like-to-have-a-beer-with figurehead while they plunder our nation like pirates and try to exploit America's position (dwindling as we blog) as the only remaining superpower.

Is he going to replace John Bolton? Gonzales? Rumsfeld? The myriad other appointments based on cronyism rather than competence? I'll believe he understands his responsibility when I see action other than awarding huge, no-bid contracts to his cronies' companies.

Otherwise it's just more hot air.
Then "Scotian" reminding us of something that is easy to forget even though it was painfully obvious to those of us who watched 9/11 from abroad:
Something I think everyone needs to stop and remember is that Bush has gotten the free ride he has from so many that might otherwise think differently is because of that time. Americans were deeply emotionally wounded, and he became a necessary rallying point for all Americans (well, likely 90+ percent anyway). This also did create a powerful emotional bond for many Americans that otherwise would not give him any benefit of the doubt. His initial responses publicly to the attacks was measured, sensible and started off reasonably well executed. It was when the internal focus started shifting to Iraq and that resonated through the international community in terms of reduction of aid to Afghanistan where things started going off the rails, but by then the emotional bonding had really set in. This is why he was given so much benefit of the doubt for Iraq, despite the fact that the actual hard details, such as were able to be discovered that is, were more than a little shaky, especially on the key emotional turner nuclear weapons development.

I think though Katrina may have been sufficient to break that bonding, which will make the tactics Rove has used to such great success only further create more trouble for Bush and the GOP. Eventually the Dems will see the momentum and jump all over it, and then the bloodbath will begin I suspect. People have remarked that they feel like abused spouses with this President, they are unhappy with his choices and feel very taken advantage of for little to no feelable positive results/benefits yet continue to reluctantly support him and put on the brave face so as to not show weakness to the terrorists out there. I have always thought that he got truly special treatment and then exploited that for all it was politically worth over the next three years.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Andrew Sullivan on Bush and Katrina

Andrew Sullivan puts it all together like only he can:
The president’s approval ratings were already in the very low 40s. The tracking poll of his response to the crisis showed discontent rising fast. By Friday, 70% were saying the government had not done enough; and a majority disapproved of the president’s handling of the crisis. At times like this, people normally rally round their president. This time, many are turning on him. And my sense is that this is just the beginning. On Friday the Republican Senator Susan Collins announced her intent to launch an investigation into what went wrong. Members of the Black Congressional Caucus said they were “ashamed of America”.
Read the whole thing.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Katrina Viewed From Abroad

Time and time again, America has been forced to wake up to the racial injustice which has been its historic curse. It was the source of a civil war in the 19th century and of repeated battles through the 20th. From the desegregation and civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s to the Los Angeles riots and even the OJ Simpson trial of the 1990s, America has undergone periodic reminders that it is in the relationship between black and white that it has failed to honour its own, animating ideals.
Crookedtimber (post by an Irishman):
And then you see what’s happening in New Orleans. Where a natural disaster has shone the light on what’s ugly and usually hidden in American life; the inherent and unconsidered racism, the casual brutality, the values that prize property above people. You see people being blamed for being poor. You see black people penned in like animals and made to live in their own filth. You see in America people dying of thirst. Of thirst. You see people pushed beyond civility, beyond reason, beyond any imaginable breaking point, to be met with gun fire and the self-serving response ‘there, do you see how these people really are? It’s the war of all against all down there.’ You wonder what the Christian right might have to say, and fear it’s not ‘whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me’, but rather; ‘devil take the hindmost’. Which he clearly did.
But in another way, as a non-American I feel more shocked, disappointed and let down than maybe even some Americans do. We, too, can barely believe this is really happening in America. We can hardly believe that we are (gladly) opening our wallets to the poorest people of the richest country in the world. For so many people who live outside the US, America truly is a beacon of hope, a real if flawed exemplar of how new ideas can set people free. We’ve had our own myths too.
That last paragraph makes me think of all those people I've met (many of them Asian) who have come to America with nothing but hope and determination and built wonderful futures for themselves and their families. America can inspire people and bring out the best in them in ways that no other country can. But does it have to come at the cost of the normally hidden 'dark side' of poverty and selfishness?


Guess who evacuated 1.5 million people without a single life lost when hurricane Ivan struck last September? Cuba. (Via one of Kevin's commenters.)

Shephard Smith and Geraldo Rivera Unleashed

I want to save this post and related video for future reference. The Fox Katrina coverage was the most conflicted TV programming I've ever seen. Sean Hannity was practically fighting with his reporters, trying to make them stick to the pro-Bush playbook. It didn't work. Digby's comments are great:
Sean's up now and he's equally uncomfortable with Shep's story about the thousands still stuck on freeways and bridges with no food and water --- who have been ignored for days now. He's been covering one single bridge for days and nobody knows why they haven't been helped yet. He's almost shrill.

Now Geraldo comes on and he freaks out, begging the authorities to let people still stuck at the convention center walk out of town. Shep comes back and he says they have checkpoints set up turning people back to the city if they try. (wtf?) They are both on the verge of tears.

Sean says they need to get some perspective and Shep screams at him "this is the perspective!"

This was some amazing TV. Kudos to Shep Smith and Geraldo for not letting O'Reilly and Hannity spin their GOP "resolve" apologia bullshit. I'm fairly shocked.
Wonder when Fox will fire Geraldo and Shephard. And if they don't, having displayed some human decency and integrity, how can these guys keep working there? Oh well they'll probably find some way to rationalize it and return to their usual Bush praising. Geraldo was well on his way the following morning when the military had started evacuating people from the convention center (think he said something like "God bless the military" - maybe that will be enough to save his job).

David Brooks on Katrina

I always suspected David Brooks had a bit more intelligence and integrity than most conservative pundits. Now I know:
Over the past few years, we have seen intelligence failures in the inability to prevent Sept. 11 and find W.M.D.'s in Iraq. We have seen incompetent postwar planning. We have seen the collapse of Enron and corruption scandals on Wall Street. We have seen scandals at our leading magazines and newspapers, steroids in baseball, the horror of Abu Ghraib.
The scrapbook of history accords but a few pages to each decade, and it is already clear that the pages devoted to this one will be grisly. There will be pictures of bodies falling from the twin towers, beheaded kidnapping victims in Iraq and corpses still floating in the waterways of New Orleans five days after the disaster that caused them.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

More on The Bell Curve

Commenters Leta and Dan provided some food for thought regarding my previous post on Intelligent Design and The Bell Curve. Dan thinks Bell Curve supporters are "mild" or "closet" racists:
..the vast majority of its supporters are those who have difficulty recognizing their own, more subtle racism before it allows them to accept the junk science.
I said "supporters of The Bell Curve probably fall into two categories: Racists and those who seek to understand the world better" but upon second thought I think he is right. The "open" racists are probably a relatively small group, while most supporters fit in his "have difficulty recognizing their own, more subtle racism" category. But I still maintain that some people (like me) want to recognize The Bell Curve as an important work in order to better understand the world.

There are, of course, many ways of recognizing somebody's work, and in my previous posts I didn't elaborate on why I "like" The Bell Curve. To be honest I never even read the whole book, I only read several excerpts back when it first came out. (I remember it well; I lived in New York City at the time and some newspaper ran several of the "juiciest" chapters.) Since then there has been extensive debate, Leta summarized it this way:
.. very few reputable scientists believe that the genetic component of our intelligence can be described by one single defined and measurable factor, as purported by the bell curve. There are also serious scientific flaws in the research used to develop the bell curve.
She then goes on to quote the late Stephen Jay Gould as saying:
The Bell Curve is scarcely an academic treatise in social theory and population genetics. It is a manifesto of conservative ideology; the book's inadequate and biased treatment of data display its primary purpose—advocacy. The text evokes the dreary and scary drumbeat of claims associated with conservative think tanks: reduction or elimination of welfare, ending or sharply curtailing affirmative action in schools and workplaces, cutting back Head Start and other forms of preschool education, trimming programs for the slowest learners and applying those funds to the gifted. (I would love to see more attention paid to talented students, but not at this cruel price.)
I highly respect the work of Stephen Jay Gould, as a firm believer in Evolutionary Psychology I have come across several of his articles in the past. I was a bit surprised by his strong association of conservative propaganda and The Bell Curve, as the excerpts I read way back when did not evoke feelings of revolt in the same way that most of the stuff coming out of the Heritage Foundation does. But then again Murray hangs his hat at the American Enterprise Institute, so I'll gladly accept that Herrnstein and Murray had strong conservative leanings. So even if I didn't remember the book that way it seems clear that they wrote it partly in order to promote a conservative agenda.

But what I won't accept is that they wrote the book solely to advocate a conservative agenda, and this is why I stand by my previous posts and my recognition of The Bell Curve as an important contribution. The book is full of original scientific research (even if doubts have been raised about its quality), and I strongly get a sense that they want to make genuine (although perhaps biased) contributions to a scientific debate. Conservative hacks like Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity just don't in a style that has citations and intelligent prose like this, and neither do fundamentalist Christians pushing Intelligent Design. There were real insights in the book, or at least real arguments worth debating. As such it is not at all comparable with the ID debate. I have not seen a single argument for ID that has any scientific value whatsoever. Seasoned social scientists might say the same about The Bell Curve, although I doubt that, but even if they do there is one crucial difference: The Bell Curve raises one of modern America's taboo subjects.

This taboo is exactly why I think "real" (read "enlightenment" or "classical") liberals should resist the temptation to be Politically Correct and dismiss The Bell Curve as racist propaganda. If you truly believe that reason reigns supreme then you should strive to make your case in a way that emphasizes logical argument over name-calling. 11 years ago I watched a storm of reactions to The Bell Curve and most of them had no basis in reality. They were all motivated by sheer indignation over the fact that the subject matter was even being addressed.

Now, over the years I have learned that timing matters sometimes. My timing was definitely a bit off when a few days after 9/11 I told my NYC-resident wife-to-be (over the phone from Norway) that the attacks were "to be expected" given the history of US foreign policy in the Middle East. But we've since talked about it and reached a consensus. Sooner or later one needs to talk about things. Given the painful history of the civil rights movement in America I can understand why race and IQ is such a sensitive subject. But in the long run it needs to be discussed.

I don't pretend to have an answer to why jews do better in IQ tests and make more money than whites while blacks do worse and have less money. I don't know if all the causes are environmental or if some are genetic (such as the theory that jews in Europe were forced into professions that required higher intelligence). But I don't think there is hard evidence out there that completely refutes the possibility that circumstances which influence breeding decisions or child survival rates may have an impact. Although just as the distribution of other human qualities such as height may change in a given population over time I don't see any reason why a quality like average intelligence (or ability to take IQ exams, or both) couldn't change over time either.

In conclusion I guess my previous post wasn't so much about the actual scientific merits of The Bell Curve per se. Rather, I wanted to repeat an assertion that I've made several times before; that Political Correctness and liberalism should not go together.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Republicans and Disaster Response

Clearly the government's emergency response has been very poor. There's a logical explanation for this: Republicans/conservatives don't do emergency humanitarian assistance to poor people in need. Just like Democrats/liberals don't do swift military responses and dogged, patriotic determination.

Republicans are small business owners, corporate bigwigs, white rural farmers. They're not peace corps workers, idealistic Red Cross workers, state government coordinators or federal relief experts. That is not to say they don't have care for the needy, they support local churches and private community organizations. But this disaster can't be handled by a bunch of church communities, it requires federal coordination and FEMA has been castrated under Bush.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum is apparently thinking the same thing.

UPDATE II: Bruce Reed of Slate has a fascinating story about FEMA. Apparently it started out the same way it is now - as a dumping ground for political hacks and loyal campaign workers. It only worked well under Clinton and his fellow Arkansan James Lee Witt.

UPDATE III: Here's Krugman.

UPDATE IV: Brad DeLong sums it up thusly:
if we elect people who don't think a functioning government is very important, we shouldn't be surprised when it turns out we don't have a functioning government.
UPDATE V: I have a feeling this will be (or at least should be) a very important topic, so I'll keep updating this post as long as I find stuff I like. Here's a good post by Greg Anrig with an important conclusion:
The failures of the Bush administration are the failures not just of one president, but of a conservative ideology that remains more popular in the abstract than liberalism. That disparity has a lot to do with relentless, well-organized attacks against liberalism over the course of many years. A comparable assault on conservatism, which the facts now will support quite effectively, is long overdue.
And Kevin adds an important list of things that Bush should not be blamed for (important because pointed critisism = effective critisism):
I don't blame him for being on vacation when Katrina hit. I don't blame him for a certain amount of chaos in the initial response — that's inevitable no matter how good your plan is. I don't blame him for rolling FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security. I don't blame him for focusing more on terrorism than on natural disasters. That was a natural reaction to 9/11.
UPDATE VI: Via Andrew Sullivan, a list of FEMA blunders.

Digby on Lefty Morals, Bell Curve

Here are two posts from Digby, first one paraphrasing Peter Daou of Salon making an obvious yet very insightful observation:
.. the left views the war from a moral standpoint --- indeed, the left views our relationship with the world from a moral standpoint --- while the right sees both those things from a material standpoint.

The right (broadly speaking) can’t fathom why the left is driven into fits of rage over every Abu Ghraib, every Gitmo, every secret rendition, every breach of civil liberties, every shifting rationale for war, every soldier and civilian killed in that war, every Bush platitude in support of it, every attempt to squelch dissent.
He then weighs in on the whole Charles Murray / Bell Curve discussion with a prediction of looming clashes on the right:
But as I read some of the recent discussion of Intelligent Design, it struck me that we are seeing a clash of the psuedo-sciences coming on the right that could be very fun to watch.

You see, the racist Bell Curve people are ardent adherants of evolution; one of their primary wingnut funded institutions is called The Charles Darwin Research Institute.
I don't think there's going to be much of a clash on the right. Darwinist conservatives are in the minority and they keep very quiet. Besides, supporters of The Bell Curve probably fall into two categories: Racists and those who seek to understand the world better (count me in the second one). Many of the right-wing bloggers who defend The Bell Curve would also defend ID. The inherent contradictions are not important to them, they just want to fire up "liberals" like Digby and Atrios.

And by the way, calling all "Bell Curve people" racist is not a very (enlightenment) liberal thing to do. Even if the majority were racist such blanket statements does not serve the advancement of reason and truth. I understand that Digby and other "liberals" probably have some vivid memories of having to defend minorities against racist attacks but that is no excuse for argumentation-by-name-calling.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Intelligence, Gender and Race Differences

Lots of non-PC articles coming out today, from the claim that men are five points ahead on IQ tests to the first new article on race and IQ from Charles Murray since he co-authored The Bell Curve.

Like Andrew Sullivan says:
The fact of human inequality and the subtle and complex differences between various manifestations of being human - gay, straight, male, female, black, Asian - is a subject worth exploring, period. Liberalism's commitment to political and moral equality for all citizens and human beings is not and should not be threatened by empirical research into human difference and varied inequality.
Hateful actions have been justified by this kind of thinking. But if you believe that reason reigns supreme then you can't let that stop you in your pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

UPDATE: The "liberals" are responding. Atrios and Digby have some great points here. Matt thinks people who believe The Bell Curve holds up are fools, not bigots. Personally I don't have a strong opinion on this, although it seems clear that Bell Curve likely confuses levels of education with IQ.

All I know is this: Research shows strong parallels between "group psychology" (even for large groups like "society") and individual psychology. Thus, in the long term it does society no good to create taboos and suppress debate.

UPDATE II: I normally like Atrios, his writing is intelligent even though it's a little one-sided at times. But this is ridiculous:
The ignorance of Andrew Sullivan is shocking. A decade later, he still has no clue why the publication of racist pseudo-science reflects not a man who is "interested in the truth," but rather, as I said, a bigot, a fool, or both.
Look, it may be that The Bell Curve is completely devoid of scientific merit. I really don't know. But please present some sensible arguments instead of resorting to name-calling. I read Atrios often and I find his "far-left" reputation to be much exaggerated. His grasp of economics and his ability to form coherent arguments makes him more of a moderate in my book. But like many liberals (and human beings in general I suppose) he completely undercuts his "moderate" credentials with occational posts like the one above that have no rational merits whatsoever.

Leave Shabana Alone!

Terrible news from the motherland:
Earlier this week shots were fired at a restaurant owned by the sister of Shabana Rehman, a Pakistani-born Norwegian comic who (like the spiky-haired Canadian lesbian Muslim writer Irshad Manji, the author of The Trouble with Islam Today) has taken to using jihad and Islam as the jumping off point for her jokes and political commentary.
I always enjoy Shabana's newspaper columns and tv comedy when I'm in Norway, she's really a fantastic woman. Her sister's attackers should be tortured and killed slowly by 72 virgins...

Thursday, August 25, 2005

B.D. on Flypaper

A must read from B.D. I am actually very curious to see what he has to say next.

Does CNN need saving?

Via Atrios, all this talk about saving CNN has taken on a new dimension for me now that I work there. I don't have anything to add though, except that I agree with DC Media Girl.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Outta Iraq

Via Kevin, here is Juan Cole's plan for withdrawal. This plan balances the need for getting out (because our presence is clearly counter-productive) and the desire to avoid the human tragedy of a full-blown civil war.

College Rankings

It is the season for silly college rankings. The latest to take a crack at it is The Washington Monthly. Apparently tech colleges do more for the country (and my old digs do the most).

Monday, August 15, 2005

Democrats and Elections

Commenter Ed Stephan has an interesting take over at The Carpetbagger:
Over the last fifty years or so, we have become a nation of primarily selfish, isolated, fearful (or bored), purpose-less, tasteless, non-passionate and uncompassionate, artless, incurious, brain-dead consumers, unaware of any past, willing to bankrupt any future, i.e., perfect targets for what (little) the GOP has to offer.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Liberals, Conservatives and Nastiness

Kevin Drum has a good post articulates some of the reasons why conservatives are so much better at sliming their opponents with nasty fact-twisting ad campaigns like the swift boat veterans campaign.

UPDATE: Hiding/stopping comments on this post because some idiot posted an advertisement.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Why Democrats Lack Voter Appeal

Matthew Yglesias has a few points worth noting: Contrary to most liberals' beliefs, American voters don't vote on "the issues", they look for people who they can identify with. Simply put: A white Christian voter will choose a white Christian politician talking about Christian family values.

So even if people are starting to really dislike Republicans because they are corrupt, ineffective and economical with the truth, they still don't like Democrats. As Matt says they may end up disliking the GOP so much that it leads to victory in the short run but it does nothing in the long run.

I think Matt is right when he says that "what's going on here is something that's a bit difficult for most liberals to get our collective heads around". There truly are two Americas, and guess what: The other part is bigger.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Jennings dies

This makes me incredibly sad. America has lost a great journalist. They don't make 'em like this anymore. I hope the time will come when people with wisdom, integrity, and a sense of public service will again dominate the airwaves.

UPDATE: Glad to see that Greg agrees. Although I can't help but wonder: When will he stop backing Bush? Is he really so stubborn that it will take a cowardly mid-term election retreat from Iraq to change his mind? Today's Republican party doesn't have room for a man who characterizes a bona fide and hated member of the "mainstream liberal media" like this:
The kind of journalism and anchoring that Jennings did--intellectually honest and judicious, delivered with a steely calm (rather than the shrill hysterics or 'emo-anchoring' now in vogue) appears a dying breed today.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Krugman: Design for Confusion

Krugman sums up the conservatives approach to policymaking:
[Corporations] pouring a steady stream of money into think tanks that created a sort of parallel intellectual universe, a world of "scholars" whose careers are based on toeing an ideological line, rather than on doing research that stands up to scrutiny by their peers.

.. The most spectacular example is the campaign to discredit research on global warming. Despite an overwhelming scientific consensus, many people have the impression that the issue is still unresolved. This impression reflects the assiduous work of conservative think tanks, which produce and promote skeptical reports that look like peer-reviewed research, but aren't. And behind it all lies lavish financing from the energy industry, especially ExxonMobil.

There are several reasons why fake research is so effective. One is that nonscientists sometimes find it hard to tell the difference between research and advocacy - if it's got numbers and charts in it, doesn't that make it science?
He then goes on to Intelligent Design:
The important thing to remember is that like supply-side economics or global-warming skepticism, intelligent design doesn't have to attract significant support from actual researchers to be effective. All it has to do is create confusion, to make it seem as if there really is a controversy about the validity of evolutionary theory.
Clever, huh? :)

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Moral Conviction: Democrats vs. Republicans

I was looking for some of Andrew Sullivan's excellent posts on torture when I came across this e-mail from one of his readers:
What really bothers me right now is the political self-protection in place of moral values that happens on the right and left. The left demonstrated this with their rallying around Clinton during Monica-gate. While Clinton probably did not deserve to be impeached, he certainly did not act presidential and was not worthy of the support he received. With the Democrats out of power, the Republicans have been front and center with their political self-protection. Where is the outrage about torture? Honestly, they impeach Clinton over sex and lying, but actual incidents of human beings from around the world being treated with Nazi stye torture is responded to with circling of political wagons. At what point does humanity trump politics? Those who committed the horrors of 9/11 showed no humanity, and only looked to serve their political agenda of terror. We are better then that. Both parties need to be. I am not calling Republicans Nazis or saying they are the same as 9/11 terrorists, but I am saying the moral fiber of our nation is called into question with government sanctioned torture of people, incident or guilty. It is one thing to get into debates about what it means to be patriotic, a silly debate the right and left get into all the time, but it is another thing for our humanity to be at stake. Where is the outrage? Both parties have men and women of great moral conviction. May of those Democrats were missing during Clinton's presidency, and it seems many Republicans are missing now.
Like most liberals I am very disturbed by the lengths to which conservatives and Republicans nowadays will go in order to defend Bush & Co. Whether it is Karl Rove outing a CIA agent for political gains or Alberto Gonzales writing his "torture memo" I am truly astounded that the vast majority of conservatives and Republicans (good friends included) are either a) not bothered at all, or b) actively defending the administration.

But are the Democrats any better? Andrew's reader doesn't seem to think so, since many Democrats defended Clinton during his presidency. Thus he ends up lamenting a lack of moral conviction on both sides.

In this he may be right but it is important to note the different forms of moral conviction. Conservatives care greatly about personal virtues such as fidelity and honesty while liberals care more about saving the evironments and eliminating human suffering.

As a (moderate) liberal I remember laughing out loud when I first heard about Monica-gate. Public figures caught in juicy scandals amuses me. Later on I came to see it more as a personal tragedy for the Clinton family and an excellent psychological case study in "compartmentalization" (which some conservatives rightly link to "character" although I'd say it's more about "emotional maturity"). But I never saw it as grounds for impeachment.

In torture-gate I'm not really sure I see grounds for impeachment either, but looking at Bush's policy decisions as a whole I definitely think voters should have kicked him out in 2004. In my view he is both ruining the environment and increasing human suffering. About his personal virtues I don't care so much, although I I'm happy his honesty ratings are finally falling. He could be caught snorting coke while cheating on Laura with Pam Anderson for all I care, as a liberal I would argue that he should be allowed to do whatever he wants.

But imagine the conservatives reaction to such a story. They would drop him like a hot potato. He would no longer be "one of them". Which is, I guess, ultimately what people's voting behavior comes down to.

I for one like to think I am much more like Clinton than Bush. Not because I yearn for infidelity (not any more than the next guy anyway) but because I value making the world a better place far higher than the protection of superficial Victorian moral standards.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Bush's Faith-Based Rule

I had forgotten about this Suskind piece from October 2004. It remains extremely insightful even though its opening prediction (a GOP civil war) hasn't started yet.

UPDATE: Or has it?

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Democrats, National Security and Nukes

An excellent thread about national security, Democrats and nuclear threats over at Matt Yglesias's new place. He quotes Peter Scoblic of TNR:
[Democrats] must explain that nuclear weapons--not simply abstractions like tyranny or hate or evil--pose the greatest threat to the United States. And they must explain that, in contrast to Bush's fantasy, in which the earth is cleansed of evil, theirs is a story--all the more optimistic because of its realism--in which the concrete goal of securing and destroying fissile material can be accomplished through concrete steps.
Read the comments too. Money quote by commenter Gary Boatwright:
The first step is to reject the concept of "conservative hawk" and "liberal hawk." In the interest of ideological accuracy we should substitute "neo-conservative warmonger" for the term "conservative hawk" and "conservative warmonger" for the term "liberal hawk." The warmongers at TNR and the DLC are not liberal.

The second step is to recognize that the GWOT is simply a recycled version of the Global War On Communism. GWOT and GWOC are identical in every respect, including the lack of intellectual and ethical integrity. The Cold War had no identifiable military objective and neither does the GWOT.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Republicans and National Security

Kevin says:
Until Patrick Fitzgerald finishes his investigation, we won't know everything that really happened here. In fact, we still might not know even then. But we've learned one thing already: when presented with even a hint of evidence that someone on their team has treated national security with cavalier disdain, conservative concern with national security gets thrown overboard without a second thought.

UPDATE: Kevin, who is thankfully back from vacation, has more.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Kid pics

Neoconservatives and God

Do neoconservatives believe in God? Via Matt, an interesting and comprehensive look at what founding neocon Irving Kristol thinks:
If God does not exist, and if religion is an illusion that the majority of men cannot live without...let men believe in the lies of religion since they cannot do without them, and let then a handful of sages, who know the truth and can live with it, keep it among themselves.
I have a lot of sympathy for this view. I myself don't think there is a God, but I agree that "the masses" might act in ways that are immoral and destructive to "the fabric of society" if they learned "the truth".

Although in theory it should be possible to design a societal structure modelled after tribal patterns where moral authority was placed in the hands of "elders" of some kind (which is in fact what happens in many so-called primitive cultures).

Where I have a problem is when religious (and thus moral) authority is hijacked by people who use it primarily for their own personal advancement. I'd say the current crop of Republican leaders exemplify this.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Friday, June 10, 2005

Bush on Iraq in 1999

Here's a nice quote according to Bush's former ghost writer:
'He was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,' said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz. 'It was on his mind. He said to me: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade, if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it.

Friday, June 03, 2005

On Smarter Jews

Are Ashkenazi Jews smarter than the rest of us? This fascinating report says so and suggests why (via Andrew Sullivan):
The selective force was the restriction of Ashkenazim in medieval Europe to occupations that required more than usual mental agility, the researchers say...
Of course the study focuses on genetic diseases, which is important but not as controversial. Saying that one ethnic group is predisposed to a disease is fairly acceptable. Saying one group is smarter than all other groups is considered controversial:
It would be hard to overstate how politically incorrect this paper is," said Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard, noting that it argues for an inherited difference in intelligence between groups. Still, he said, "it's certainly a thorough and well-argued paper, not one that can easily be dismissed outright."
This resonates well with my own thoughts. Why else would Jews be so incredibly successful in America?
..the researchers cite the fact that Ashkenazi Jews make up 3 percent of the American population but won 27 percent of its Nobel prizes, and account for more than half of world chess champions.
And from Exceptionalism (via Matthew Yglesias):
Strikingly, non-Jews greatly overestimate the size of the American Jewish population. A 1992 national survey conducted for the Anti-Defamation Leage by Marttila & Kiley found the median estimate of the percentage of Americans who are Jewish is 18. Only a tenth perceive them as less than 5 percent. . . .

An analysis of the four hundred richest Americans, as reported by Forbes magazine, finds that two-fifths of the 160 wealthiest Americans are Jews, as are 23 percent of the total list. Jews are disproportionately present among many sections of elites, largely drawn from the college educated. These include the leading intellectuals (45%), professors at the major universities (30%), high-level civil servants (21%), partners in the leading law firms in New York and Washington, DC (40%), the reporters, editors, and executives of print and broadcast media (26%), the directors writers and producers of the fifty top-grossing motion pictures from 1965 to 1982 (59%), and the same level of people involved in two or more prime time television series (58%).
So, if a) Jews are smarter, and b) Jews are more successful, what does that mean? For one thing I don't see the point of pretending it isn't so. The following is also important:
  • Non-Jews should be vigilant and forceful in our rejection of any hint of genuine anti-Semitism. We should not just leave it up to Jews to defend themselves.
  • Since the success of Jews in business and media is due to their talents we should not resent nor glorify them any more (or less) than we resent or glorify other successful people.
  • Efforts to label legitimate and non-racist opposition to Israeli policies as anti-Semitism should be forcefully countered. The always-excellent (and Jewish) Matthew Yglesias leads the way here.
  • Jews themselves should seek to minimize the use of their often privileged (and well-deserved) positions in society to advance the interests of Israel in a "hidden" or "deceptive" way.
By "hidden" or "deceptive" way I refer to the advancement of arguments that do not acknowledge the inherent (and perfectly understandable) bias of many Jews towards politics in the Middle East.

Case in point: Neoconservatives and Iraq. As I've said before:
Imagine for a moment that Sweden and Norway are mortal enemies at war. Then ask yourself this question: Would it be in America's best interest to have me and my fellow Norwegian-Americans direct US policies in Scandinavia?
How is this relevant? Well the end goal is simple: Happy coexistence, mutual respect, and above all: No repetition of the conditions in 20's and 30's Europe (and previously) where envy, racism, and ignorance among non-Jewish populations paved the way for widespread sentiments that were exploited by an evil dictator.

If I were a Jewish-American today I would be angry with people like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz whose efforts to advance democracy in the Middle East leave them open to the charge of "inventing" threats to deceive the American public into helping Israel.

They may think they are helping both Jews and the wider world (in fact I'm sure they genuinely believe they are) but unfortunately the world is such that privilege and deception breeds envy and resentment.

Thankfully there is very little resentment in the country that matters the most today (America) but if the Bush presidency has shown us anything it is that popular perceptions of what is "acceptable" behavior can change very fast.

If current trends torwards Christian fundamentalism and Gitmo-style human rights continue then who knows what might happen tomorrow. Our best insurance policy is open and honest debate and as such I very much welcome this contribution from the Utah research team.

UPDATE: The Economist weighs in.

UPDATE II: Discussion at slashdot.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

John Edwards at TPMCafe

Edwards is doing good work on reducing poverty:
The Brookings Institution recently released a fascinating study demonstrating how low-income families pay more for all sorts of things. They pay more for groceries and gasoline. They pay more for furniture and appliances. They pay higher prices for insurance and for utilities. And—something that has troubled me for a long time—they pay more for financial services, whether it’s cashing a check or getting a loan.
Good man!

E!: Paris & Paris' Engaged Life

I can't believe I was reading this. But having just digested the news that Paris Hilton is now engaged to a guy named Paris this sentence struck me as utterly ridiculous:
The Simple Life star is apparently interested in keeping her family life complicated--she has said she intends to name her daughter Paris, while her son may be dubbed London.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Iraq Update from Juan Cole

Sometimes You are Just Screwed:
Therefore, I conclude that the United States is stuck in Iraq for the medium term, and perhaps for the long term. The guerrilla war is likely to go on a decade to 15 years. Given the basic facts, of capable, trained and numerous guerrillas, public support for them from Sunnis, access to funding and munitions, increasing civil turmoil, and a relatively small and culturally poorly equipped US military force opposing them, led by a poorly informed and strategically clueless commander-in-chief who has made himself internationally unpopular, there is no near-term solution.
I have no reason to disbelieve anything that Juan says here. His previous posts on the Middle East have been largely correct.

O'Reilly vs. NY Times

This piece does a good job of highlighting the difference between "mainstream media bias" and conservative bias. Suffice to say these are not apples and apples. (Via Kevin Drum.)

Monday, May 23, 2005

Prof. Gaddis of Yale goes to the White House...

Who could have guessed this (via Atrios):
But the President said: 'Sit down. Loved your book. Tell me more about Bismarck.'

There followed a twenty minute conversation with Bush asking all the questions. After which we found, cooling their heels outside, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Under-Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Myers. 'This is Professor Gaddis,' the President said, waving the book at them. 'I want you all to read his book.'

Well, I don't know how you would have responded in such a situation, but I was somewhat surprised.

I'd been told, first of all, that the President never read anything beyond his daily press and intelligence digests. So it was certainly a surprise to find that he had read my book, and that he had done so ahead of his own staff. We've since learned, of course, that the President has a pretty eclectic reading list, ranging from Nathan Sharansky and Ron Chernow to Tom Wolfe.

I'd been told, second, that this was an administration that could not take criticism ' that it listened only to people who agreed with it. But the criticisms I'd made didn't seem to bother anyone.

And I'd been told that this was an administration that was incapable of changing direction, of learning from mistakes, of assessing its own performance. But the whole tone of the discussions was one of acknowledging that, while the overall direction of policy was right, much had gone wrong along the way, and that in the second term ' if the voters were to grant one ' there would have to be certain changes.
Powerful stuff, well worth reading. My take: Bush's error isn't so much the lack of noble intent as a lack of regard for "enlightenment liberalism" - the set of values and ideas that once liberated the West from the tyranny and theocracy of the dark ages. Same goes for Prof. Gaddis.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

NYT: Church Meets State

A good read for defenders of enlightenment liberalism (via Andrew Sullivan):
If there is anything David Hume and John Adams understood, it is that you cannot sustain liberal democracy without cultivating liberal habits of mind among religious believers. That remains true today, both in Baghdad and in Baton Rouge.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Blue states richer?

Via Andrew Sullivan, an interesting take on the red-state blue-state divide:
This map of the most recent census data (for 2003) shows an interesting divide: Blue States are those whose median income for a family of four exceeds the U.S. median of $65,093, while Red States are those whose median income is less than the U.S. median

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Instapundit's Revisionism

Kevin is dead on:
I can't look into George Bush's heart, but I can listen to his words and watch his deeds. And based on that, democracy promotion was not on his agenda before the war, during the war, or after the war until the Ayatollah Sistani forced his hand. Let's not demean history by pretending otherwise.

What is a conservative?

Andrew Sullivan initiated an interesting debate about two kinds of conservatives ("conservative of faith" and "conservative of doubt") which seems to have inspired a great deal of debate on the moderate right. He has many links about it on Here's a good response from one of his readers:
I'm a long time Republican activist from Massachusetts, and like many Americans am alarmed by the takeover of the GOP by the Religious Right. My fear goes far beyond �Separation of Church and State� which is a lifeless phrase that does not adequately convey what will be lost if the Religious Right succeeds in imposing its peculiar religiosity on this nation. For what we are really about is our birthright as Americans: the separation of what is public from what is private.

The great genius and historical accomplishment of the American Constitution was the creation, through a Bill of Rights, of a sphere of personal independence, sovereignty and autonomy into which no state power (or any proxy acting in its name) is permitted to trespass. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom to practice ones religion and to be protected against the religion of others � these were the great guarantees of personal freedom and free will that we inherit from the Bill of Rights.

Religious extremists complain of religious bigotry and persecution, or that we cut them off from their legitimate participation in the Public Square, whenever we insist upon this separation of government and religion. Rubbish. No fundamentalist who brings their religiously-inspired private views to the political arena for a debate about pressing matters of public policy is dismissed or discriminated against. Where they are forbidden, and rightly so, is whenever they seek to use their political power to fashion a public agenda from issues which are, and should always remain, private. Today, the Religious Right is acting in ways which are, in a very real sense, unconstitutional; and my sense is that recent events have finally awakened the American public to this threat. None too soon. The repercussions are l

UPDATE: Hah! I had almost finished reading this take on the "conservative issue", thinking that Greg D had finally come to his senses after his post-election need to defend everything Bush, when I realized the post was written not by him but by Joseph Britt (evidently a "guest" poster).

Regardless, it inserts a healthy dose of realism into the debate.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Benedict and Relativism

Matt kicks off a debate about Relativism with these words:
So I'd be interested to know if any readers can point me to anything where he [the new Pope] spells out what he thinks relativism is and why it's so problematic.
Then one of his commenters posted this interesting document written by Ratzinger himself. Here, he demonstrates a grasp of the logic of the modern secular (and relativist) world which surprised me:
Anyone who resists, not only opposes democracy and tolerance-i.e., the basic imperatives of the human community-but also persists obstinately in giving priority to one’s Western culture and thus rejects the encounter of cultures, which is well known to be the imperative of the present moment. Those who want to stay with the faith of the Bible and the church see themselves pushed from the start to a no man’s land on the cultural level and must as a first measure rediscover the "madness of God" (I Cor. 1:18) in order to recognize the true wisdom in it.
It seems clear that Ratzinger is fully aware of the forces that are driving societies (notably Europe and America) towards religious relativism; the advent of Democracy, the increasing dominance of Science. He even mentions a factor I had not considered - the influence of Indian Hinduist relativist traditions on Western thought.

Ratzinger doesn't explicitly say this, but reading between the lines I get the impression that he is acutely aware of the Big Dilemma: You can't believe in both Science and God. His conclusion is (as expected) that God (via man) "wins":
Why, in brief, does the faith still have a chance? I would say the following: because it is in harmony with what man is. Man is something more than what Kant and the various post-Kantian philosophers wanted to see and concede. Kant himself must have recognized this in some way with his postulates.

In man there is an inextinguishable yearning for the infinite. None of the answers attempted are sufficient. Only the God himself who became finite in order to open our finiteness and lead us to the breadth of his infiniteness responds to the question of our being. For this reason, the Christian faith finds man today too. Our task is to serve the faith with a humble spirit and the whole strength of our heart and understanding.
Bottom line, as I see it, is that Ratzinger has correctly concluded that the advance of relativism is not, in the long run, compatible with a belief in God. Therefore, in order to save the Church Catholics must oppose relativism and embrace absolutism.

Which is all well and good. In and by itself this is not an extreme position; it is simply a recognition that moral relativism will (as it is) slowly render Christian practices obsolete. If you're a Christian relativist, and you've got a well-functioning brain, then sooner or later you'll sit down and think really hard about these things and you will conclude that something has to give (either God or "relativism" which is ultimately based on science and scientific/democratic processes).

The truly interesting thing about the new Pope will be whether people who are both Christian and "modern" (most Americans, for instance) will be forced to choose sides. And if so, which will they choose?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Bawer: We're Rich, You're Not. End of Story.

Bruce Bawer who lives in Norway (and whose work I've commented on before) is at it again. He thinks Norwegians are among the poorest in Western Europe and far poorer than Americans (when incomes are adjusted for cost of living). He has some good points - here are my initial thoughts (in bullet form, I don't have time to organize them better):
  • His caricature of Norwegians constantly japping on about how the nation is the "richest in the world yet fail to provide social service XXX" is dead on. When you spend time among ordinary Norwegians and read daily (especially tabloid) newspapers you hear this line on a daily basis. It may sound like gloating ("look at us, we're rich") but that is typically not the spirit in which it is delivered. It is simply used to highlight perceived social injustices.

  • I agree with much of what he says about consumption (I too think that living standards are higher in the US when it comes to car standards and going out to eat and drink) but is seems odd that he uses Sweden as a data point when he can't find data for Norway. After all, in 2002 the per capita GDP of Sweden was $26,966 while that of Norway was $42,222. By comparison the US figure was $36,731.

  • Speaking of GDP per capita - these figures are the single most important reason why Norwegians think they are so rich, so it seems strange to me that Mr. Bawer doesn't mention them anywhere in his article.

  • I actually agree with most of the other observations Mr. Bawer makes - yes, Norwegians eat dry pieces of bread for lunch while in America I have hot meals that most Norwegians would consider to be extravagant dinners. Alchohol is ridiculously expensive, and so is dining out. Norwegians hold on to appliances that Americans would throw out. Americans have yard tools and electronic gadgets that would make a Norwegian gardener green with envy. You could go on and on. In fact, for me personally the standard of living in America is far, far higher than in the Norway.

  • But, crucially, Mr. Bawer also ignores a number of areas in life where you could argue that Norwegians are much better off. For instance, most Norwegians take long vacations in foreign lands. A great many of them own second homes (in the mountains or by the sea) or boats. New parents get almost a year of maternity/paternity leave paid for by the state. Homes tend to be of a high standard, and most furniture (aside from IKEA stuff) is of a better quality. Higher education is free. Healthcare is free.

  • And, of course, aside from the drug addicts in central Oslo (who are extremely visible, I agree) Norway has almost zero poverty. Poor people receive preventive medical care. There are far fewer low-standard jobs (one of the things you'll notice is that most parking lots are automated whereas in the US they tend to be staffed by low-wage attendants).
In conclusion I applaud Mr. Bawer's work. No doubt this article will be widely discussed in Norway. And he does challenge some myths that probably deserve to be put to rest. Most countries have myths that are not true - Americans think their healthcare is the best in the world, their democracy is a beacon of light and their women are the most liberated. Norwegians think they're rich when in many ways they're not. But in some ways they are far richer than Americans. Unfortunately Bawer's "angle" is such that the good things are ignored. Norway uses its resources differently than America. It's not that they have fewer resources to begin with. This is a key distinction that gets lost in Mr. Bawer's article.

UPDATE: Here are some more thoughts from Bruce Bawer that partially explain why he continues to live in a country that he dislikes so strongly:
Which is why I owe Santorum and Bush a debt of gratitude. They've snapped me out of my post-9/11 distraction from "social issues." They've reminded me why I'm an exile. They've reminded me how outrageous it is that the nation whose founders articulated the ideals of liberty for all time, and for all humankind, compels citizens to move abroad in order to be free to share their lives with the ones they love. They've helped me to appreciate all over again how fortunate I am to be living in Norway, a country that officially perceives my relationship with my partner not as representing a threat to the family but as constituting a family itself.

UPDATE 2: Some more comments here from mainly American readers.

UPDATE 3: Yet another blogger (a University Chair) who supports the main thrust of Bawer's arguments.

UPDATE 4: Ok, last one. American conservatives are really having a field day with this.