Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Will the Republican Coalition Hold? 

In the wake of reported anti-libertarian tendencies at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), several bloggers have been either speaking of a possible Republican Party schism or assessing the event as not being too significant. Personally, this is just more confirmation of my premise set forth before speaking of the political realignment happening in America.

Today's "big, but moral, government" Republicans represent the influence of conservative socialists moving from the Democrat to the Republican Party. Really, if one is really talking about "neo-cons" and not just using the phrase as a pejorative or an alias for "the Jews" they are really taking about is this group. The ascendancy of activist and fringe elements in the Democrat Party have driven more of these people to align with their moral peers rather than their political peers. An the more the Republican Party moves left politically the more attraction the Party exudes over this group. I think we are approaching a cusp that many in both parties do not seem to fully grok (not saying that I do either). I also think those who better see the totality will be better positioned to nudge the political future of America in the direction of their choosing.

The eventual prize to be won by complete effective Republican Party dominance of the political sphere will most certainly be schism. And that will not be a bad thing. The nature of our election mechanism and especially the "winner-takes-all" presidential race naturally produces a bicameral machine. The lack of an effective national opposition will result in drawing the same from within the party of strength. I say this notional schism will not be bad because I feel the current opposition in American politics is largely moral and I think the country will be better served by returning the opposition to one of a political liberty basis.

In the history of the United States, political alignment has tended to shift between the axis of morality and axis of liberty, often responding to the needs of the times. In early America the important issues were all about how much power should be centrally vested in the federal government. As this question seemed to reach a general consensus (or at least an agree-to difference of opinions), the moral issue of slavery became more central in national politics. Moving forward into the '20s and '30s we see again the question of federal power taking center stage. In the '50s and '60s the issues of social justice and Civil Rights won the podium. But I see those moral issues largely settled and the current danger to the heart of America again being the reach of the government into our personal lives, the liberty to decide our own fates without being serf to any man or government.

The real challenge will be if the Republican coalition can hold together long enough to politically crush the power of those wanting to continue fighting for moral change. Libertarians (little-l) rightfully recognize that neither party represents their interests of restricted government and personal autonomy, but most recognize the marriage of convenience forged with social conservatives is still a necessary evil. But even if the Democrats, as the exist today, cease to be a political power, the success and effect of a libertarian schism from the conservatives does not necessarily spell success for those desiring small government.

Rather than the old axiom that "power corrupts," I tend to subscribe to the idea that power attracts the corruptible. One of the biggest disadvantages of small government, personal liberty advocates is that it is precisely those sorts of people who do not want all the hassle associated with obtaining the power necessary to effect their will. Most politicians seek power precisely because they want to tell others what to do. It is only in rare cases is the motivation provided by a negative desire the match to the motivation by a positive desire. I only hope the libertarians can solve this issue before they jump ship. Otherwise, a Republican schism, regardless of the state of the Democrat Party may only end up completing the cycle and returning us to where we've been.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Left Field Political Prediction 05-2 

I know my first prediction hasn't borne full fruit yet, but I'm in the mood to offer another. We'll go global for this one and say:
Shortly after the trial and prosecution of Saddam (or perhaps in the run-up) a representative of the Ba'ath party in Iraq will openly denounce the former regime and formally dissolve the party, absolving any claim to the government.
We've seen several hints that the Ba'athist hold outs are in negotiations with the Coalition. We've also seen U.S. military spokesmen refer to "insurgents and terrorists," clearly separating them into distinct categories. While I haven't checked the numbers, it also seems that military-style attacks targeting Coalition soldiers have been on the decline. Add in the open talk among Sunnis about now wanting to be a part of the new Iraqi government and it's clear change is in the air. And it's a good thing.

I always felt the U.S. made a mistake when they took Baghdad and noone was home. They should have taken the most senior government official they could find and held a formal surrender ceremony. I think this is a central part of the reported negotiations happening now, because once the Ba'athists formally surrender/quit it removes the air of legitimacy from "insurgent" activities, leaving just criminals, thugs and terrorists on the bad side. And everyone can agree to wiping those elements from the face of the earth. Smart Ba'athists realize their future lies not in Saddam but in getting as big a piece of the political pie as they can and right now is the time to be grabbing. Some sort of formal recognition of an end to hostilities allows them to come out of their holes and participate. They know there is no future in continuing the insurgency, they just have to agree to the way out.

Friday, February 18, 2005

What was FDR Really About? 

Bush's Social Security reform initiative is being brandished as either an anathema to the social promise of the New Deal or a return to FDR's true intentions, depending upon who is being cited. I haven't paid much attention to the "he’s misquoting FDR," "no, he’s misquoting" bickering, but Deinonychus antirrhopus provides the contested FDR quote in the clearest manner I've seen, and while my take is that both sides are not quite on target the Democrats are not even on the firing range.

The quote in question is:
In the important field of security for our old people, it seems necessary to adopt three principles: First, non-contributory old-age pensions for those who are now too old to build up their own insurance. It is, of course, clear that for perhaps thirty years to come funds will have to be provided by the States and the Federal Government to meet these pensions. Second, compulsory contributory annuities which in time will establish a self-supporting system for those now young and for future generations. Third, voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age. It is proposed that the Federal Government assume one-half of the cost of the old-age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans.
This specifically outlines a three-part program, which I summarize as follows:

If I were to equate these three to today's situation, it is clear the first equates to the current model of Social Security and I see the third provided by government sponsorship and creation of IRA, 401(k) and other retirement specific accounts. What is clearly missing from the picture is the second category, the government mandated annuity "for those now young and for future generations." That is, unless one stretches the use of "annuity" to mean a big, huge honkin' bundle of money and IOUs that makes payments to millions of beneficiaries for various reasons and has funds coming in and out on a daily basis. Considering that this definition has never traditionally been applied to the word "annuity" and that FDR most certainly would not have recognized it as such, one is left with the only logical conclusion that the specific use of "annuity" means an individual's account into which funds are placed providing a guaranteed return at some future point in time. Gee, sure sounds like the Bush plan to me.

The other intellectually troubling part most Democrats pass by like a Brahmin ignoring an untouchable is that Social Security as we "know and love it" represents the only leg of the triad for which FDR envisioned a twilight. The idea of paying for today's retirees by today's workers is explicitly expressed as a necessary evil for "perhaps thirty years" until annuities of the then current workers had built up to a self-sustaining level. Of course, when Congress failed to institute and protect individual annuities they, of course, never built up to a self-sustaining level. Besides, once Congress got their hands on the Social Security teat did anyone seriously believe they would on their own retire the tax? Additional Social Security entitlements enacted in LBJ's "Great Society" further damned ever pushing this slobbering baboon off the taxpayers' collective backs.

Maybe I'm slow on the take, but perhaps the real danger some traditional Social Security advocates see is that once individual annuities are part of the system and workers can see the real return for their own money in their own account they may start questioning why they're still paying the rest instead of investing it as well.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Of Looking Glasses, Lynch Mobs and Eason Jordan 

Well, Jordan took himself out of the picture and the speculations and recriminations flew. Quite a few have openly wondered why he resigned, given that there was no clear commonly agreed upon smoking gun driving him to do so. Others looked upon the event as just another sign of the latest manifestation of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, aka the Lynch Mob of Conservative Blogs.

As to why he left, I believe I can sum that up in two words: plausible deniability. In the intelligence gathering business (and I'm sure it has its analog in law) there is considerable effort spent in establishing cover stories that impart plausible deniability. "No, I wasn't taking pictures of the security measures of your secret facility, I'm just a tourist who is a military nut and have taken pictures all over the world. Just look at my home page where I've got pictures of UK, US, Russian facilities and dozens of others." As many have pointed out, the most likely effect of continued coverage and speculation on Eason's comments was the eventual compelled release of the Davos video. The main thing missing at the time he resigned was a major news organization officially making the request and, as much as the MSM often sticks up for itself, he simply could not rely upon perpetual stone walling. He rode it out waiting to see if it would blow over, but it did not. By removing himself from the issue it becomes old news, and reduces the likelihood anyone with muscle will start asking for that tape. Without the video evidence he maintains his plausible deniability, always able to peddle his story that he was mischaracterized, misquoted and generally abused by the "conservative blogs." Give him a year or two, but I would almost be willing to bet a paycheck that he'll be back in the news business sometime in the future. After all, his future employer has only to reference this plausible deniability in order to "give him the benefit of the doubt" while most likely that damning video will have been long since lost, erased or destroyed.

This silliness about the Lynch Mob of Conservative Blogs (LMCB for short) is as much sour grapes as it is fear. I will largely ignore the hyperbolic terminology, as Eugene Volokh decisively devastates this meme by ably pointing out that in these terms Jordan's resignation constitutes a suicide rather than a lynching since the LMCB really exercised no power at all over either CNN or Jordan. When Steve Lovelady of the CJR Daily refers to the "salivating morons who make up the lynch mob" or responds to Will Collier's commenters in his "take my ball and go home" best by characterizing his foray in the land of the LMCB as "sort of like Alice slipping through the mirror into Wonderland. At first, all you see seems strange and wondrous, upside down, backwards, inside out" though, understanding the emotional motivation behind such vitriol and contempt requires understanding the target. While most have looked upon this reaction as self-preservation fear ("who will the LMCB come after next?"), I see more an issue of frustration and, frankly, envy.

Without a doubt, the high water mark for American Journalism with a capital "J" came in the early '70s, when the pen proved mightier than the sword and the press toppled a man who would be king. The only evidence required that the press itself recognizes this is the glee with which they append the suffix "-gate" onto any silly word possible to elevate even the most minor of incidents to the pantheon of scandals to rival Tammany Hall. Currently, though, they've been busy chasing their own white rabbits and collectively coming up empty. On the face of it, the very idea of a major and respected news organization using obviously fabricated documents to support a story, regardless of how much they believe it, is scandalous behavior of which all journalists should innately be interested. That they, themselves, have invested so much personal and emotional capital into the same story, though, blinds them to the fact that they're just chasing rabbits.

Every single article I've seen bemoaning the way either Rather or Jordan was treated make a point of specifically highlighting that it was "conservative" blogs. Is this because "liberal" blogs do not engage in pointing out what they see as significant issues? Especially in light of the blog raping given former Talon reporter Gannon at the hand of well-known and "respected" left-leaning blogs, anyone familiar with the blogosphere would dismiss this assertion out of hand. Perhaps a reason for this emphasis that is closer to the truth relies upon a critical evaluation of the effectiveness of such criticism. While mainstream "liberal" blogs are still trotting the worn-out 911 conspiracy theories or lamenting Bush's National Guard service or performing the great public service of forcing a conservative "journalist" to give up the pen by dragging his private life through the public mud, the mainstream "conservative" blogs are identifying issue of substance that do not rely upon baseless innuendo or anonymous stories or fanciful scenarios to support the known facts. Perhaps the threat felt by many MSM reporters and pundits is that the LMCB is doing a better job of processing, assimilating and integrating multiple sources of data into a single logical picture and deriving sound conclusions and follow-up questions than they are either capable of doing or willing to do.

In Dance of Electricity, Laurie Anderson tells a charming story about Nikolai Tesla and Thomas Edison and their rivalry. Edison was the prototypical American inventor, disheveled, often dirty and sweaty, always with his sleeves rolled up working hard. Tesla, on the other hand, was always proper, reporting to work in formal atire, long coat, tie, top hat and gloves. According to Anderson, the main crux of Edison's enmity with Tesla derived not only from Tesla's dress, but more so from the fact that he was able to invent so many wonderful things while dressed that way. Draw your own parallel.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

My Apologies to Real Lawyers and Law Students 

While I'm not prone to short posts, I had to share that this post I did on the "Torture Memos" is the top item in a Yahoo search on "difference specific and general intent". I certainly claim no special knowledge and blame this on Yahoo and not an intent to deceive on my behalf. More importantly, I publicly deny any liability for bad information obtained from my site and any damages use of said data may cause.

(I hope that covers me)

Eason Jordan and the Truth 

Well, CNN news executive Eason Jordan is rightfully being lambasted for a supremely bone-headed and unfounded accusation of US forces "targeting" journalists that has been attributed to him at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Predictably, the blogosphere is waiting for the MSM to catch up. I've not written on this as so many others seem to have it well in hand, but there is an aspect to this whole story to which I haven't seen a lot of attention paid.

Despite others' conjecture, I do not think the alleged comment (which I believe was made, based upon eye witness accounts and prior similar comments by Mr. Jordan) was done neither out of knee-jerk anti-Americanism nor calculated courting of foreign markets. However, while I believe Mr. Jordan was quite sincere in his beliefs that does not necessarily mean that I believe the claims have much merit of basis in reality. Rather, the root of these beliefs lie in both a marked detatchment from reality as well as an arrogance and inflated sense of self-importance.

Some sharing Mr. Jordan's beliefs have pointed out that more journalists have been killed in Iraq than in previous wars, offering this as evidence that there must be some concerted effort being made to "target" journalists. I won't try to disprove these claims at this time (too lazy to Google), but simply point out logical holes in this position. First, there is a higher density of journalists covering the Iraq campaign than ever before. Throw a rock you'll likely hit someone associated with some news organization. But secondly, the major difference in Iraq is that this is the first time I believe that journalists have regularly tried to cover the fighting from in front of the US troops. Better get ready to put it on your scrolling banners, folks, but if you stand in front of someone shooting you are more likely to be hit than if you stand behind them. To ignore that journalists, either due to competitive pressures or out of a sense of purpose, are positioning themselves in more dangerous locations than ever is to ignore the reality of the very nature of war. After all, if journalists believe their own story that US forces have killed hundreds of thousands of civilians why should it require intentional targeting to kill journalists positioned in even more dangerous position?

In the end, though, it comes down to arrogance and inflated self-importance. How many times have we heard that US forces are not doing enough to protect journalists? As if being a journalist should impart some magical aura that bends bullets' paths, allowing the the sanctified to trod unscathed amongst the carnage to conduct his holy duty of conveying the Truth. The reality is that combat forces in battle work to eliminate threats. Presented with multiple threats it is the responsibility of commanders to prioritize these threats based both upon the severity of the threat and the potential for success. What arrogance it is to believe that US commanders and troops facing gun-toting terrorists and camera-laden journalists would waste any time at all worrying about the journalists. It is much more logical to conclude that journalists are largely falling victim to a "kill them all and let God sort them out" sort of thinking. And, as I said before, depending upon the proximity of the journalist to the action the decision that results in that journalist's death may not be all that wrong.

Because, to the Eason Jordans of the world, it is more important for the individual soldier to take the time and attention and care to distinguish that nine of the men facing him have guns and one has a camera and for him to take care in directing his fire in order to kill one man but not another who is within a few degrees of arc than it is for that soldier to protect himself, his squad, his company and sector. Because, to the Eason Jordans of the world, that reporter is more important than that soldier, his squad, his company and everyone in the entire sector. Because, to the Eason Jordans of the world, that journalist is Truth. So, if that reporter is killed it must have been an intentional effort to suppress the Truth.

It is this sense of self-importance that is taught in the journalism schools. It is this sense of self-importance that tells the journalist that he should be able to stand wherever he wants and should remain unscathed, because he is Truth. In reality, the only thing that distinguishes that journalist from any other random Joe in the area is his ability to effectively communicate (possibly) and access to the means to amplify his voice above others. What the Eason Jordans of the world are missing, though, is that the blog revolution is largely taking away the second distinction, allowing those who really can effectively communicate to do so. There is no monopoly on the Truth. The journalist is really just another guy with a notebook and if his bosses don't want him killed the best advice is not to whine about the people shooting but to first make sure he gets out of the way of the bullets. Because, from a perspective of responsibility, I think that the Eason Jordans of the world, by teaching journalists they are as important as Truth itself and then pushing them to get ever more dynamic, on scene reports, deserve a much larger share than the soldiers who are doing nothing more than should have been expected by placing ordnance on target.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Prediction 05-1 Update 

For what it's worth, I honestly didn't hear about this until after I made my prediction:
On the Democratic side, two candidates have said they intend to seek Frist's seat - U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Memphis and state Sen. Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville. - Knoxville News Sentinel
OK, I always thought this was the easy part to predict. My feeling, though, is not universal, as illustrated by Bill Hobbs' recent cite of state Sen. Jim Bryson saying:
"Personally, I don’t expect Harold Ford to run. He is a rising star in Congress with a bright future ahead of him. It would be difficult for him to win a statewide race against a solid Republican and, therefore, the race is too big a risk. Look for him to milk the publicity right up to the end…then pull out."
I still say, though, Jr. will grab that third rail and ride it for what it's worth. Social Security reform will happen this term, it's just a matter of if a Democrat will try and get any political mileage out of it or if they will all go down swinging.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Left Field Political Prediction 05-1 

OK, I'm going to start something here and make a political prediction relying upon nothing more than just an idea. As such, while I'll try and keep an eye on it, I certainly don't plan on using it as any evidence of my acute perspicuity should it come to pass. Likewise, I shall entertain no rebuff should it go bust.

Left Field Political Prediction 05-1:
Democrat Congressman Harold Ford Jr. from Tennessee will "cross the aisle" and support President Bush in establishing private Social Security accounts. He will end up one of Bush's major bipartisan partners and be invited to the signing of the final Bill.
Harold Ford Jr. is one of the Democrat Party's rising stars and most certainly has his sights on higher things. Being African-American and part of the Ford political dynasty, he has never been seriously challenged in his District since his daddy decided to will the House seat to him in 1996 at the ripe old age of 26. I'd be very surprised, though, if he did not at least look at the Democrat ticket to fill Senate Majority Leader Frist's seat when he leaves the chamber in 2006. But to make the leap to a more national position will require a more national profile. His play in 2002 for Minority Leader of the House with a comparatively centrist, pragmatic position never had much chance for success and I always assumed this effort was more marketing than anything else. Being a Democrat and a Ford is, however, can be a bit of a liability in Tennessee politics on a whole. In order to seriously challenge the Republicans for the Senate seat he has to distance himself from the left and establish his bona fides as a centrist Democrat to Tennessee conservatives.

His record, to date, has not been bad on this front. He's generally supported Bush in the GWOT, only occasionally taking the odd political swipe. He's sponsored several tax bills aimed at increasing deductions of education expenses and raising the estate tax threshold, even if none seem to have made it out of committee. He has generally expressed agreement that ownership and empowerment go hand-in-hand and that economic prosperity serves as the best means to uplift people. In short, had he been born to a different family he could just as easily have landed in the Republican Party. What he hasn't had, though, is a major political victory.

Social Security reform is his chance to distinguish himself and break out from the pack. The President is getting good reviews on the matter of individual accounts and seems to have hit a line drive in shining a spotlight on the unfairness of the current system to African-Americans, a spotlight the Democrats can't extinguish without opening themselves to a lot of criticism. I think idea of keeping and being able to pass their own money on to their children will continue to win the public over to the President's general proposal. This spotlight, though, can also allow a savvy African-American pol like Junior to cross the aisle with moral authority and purpose without having to sacrifice his claims of loyalty to the Party. When it's all over and done with he not only gets to tell conservative Tennessee voters he sided with the President in reforming Social Security, he also gets to tell his Democrat constituency that he helped keep Bush's more radical right-wing tendencies in check. It's a win-win, gives him the national attention he needs and makes him a damn near shoe-in for the Senate in 2006.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Denial or Forced Perspective? 

Evaluating the success of the elections in Iraq have created a boom market in punditry on all sides of the political equation. I fall into the camp that can't see past Sunday's performance as anything other than a resounding success and another step foward for the Iraqi people in their desire for freedom, for the American people in their mission to secure a future free from terrorist threat and for the people of the world who, in many cases in spite of themselves, stand to reap the benefits of a more free and secure planet. At possibly the other extreme you can find the rationl minds at Democratic Underground bemoaning those poor Iraqis who were fooled by the "Chimperor" into voting. What then of a more moderate, dare I say centric response?

Mark Brown bravely asks "What if Bush was right about Iraq?" The Washington Post asks "Who Gets Credit in Iraq?" which logically seems to imply an acknowledgement that something for which one would want credit actually happened. But even while both of these seem to imply some degree of common perception with us Bush supporters, a read of the contents leaves me not so sure.

Mr. Brown's article contains many poisoned gems, such as (all emphasis added):I should long ago have shed any sense of surprise at the racist condensention of the left, but something this strident still flabbergasts me. Why, in God's name, wouldn't freedom mean something to Iraqis? Why should they have to proove to you or anyone else they don't want to live under a totalitarian regime? How does a phrase like that not only get formed in the mind but committed to paper by an accomplished writer like this?

The Washington Post's piece is even more fun filled. After being forced to recognize the significance of the elections and acknowledge that many view it as a vindication of Bush's policies, they unquestioningly jump to the other aisle with the following claim:
"The more common view is that the election vindicated the political vision of Ayatollah Ali Sistani" (emphasis added)
"More common" among whom? I'm not the final authority, but I've not seem this idea put forward anywhere else. For a "common view" it certainly is keeping covert. Oh, a reporter from the UK opined that "[t]he reason there was a poll [Sunday] was that the U.S., facing an increasingly intensive war against the five million Sunnis, dared not provoke revolt by the 15 to 16 million Shia." In that case it must be not only the most common but also the most accurate assesment. Never mind that Bush has not only stated from the beginning that our goal was to hold elections as soon as feasible and that he adamently opposed any delay once the schedule had been set.

Are we again seeing the ascendancy of the Democrats' well-developed defense by denial? One might easilly look to theabove examples as the political left yet again denying the obvious when it rebuts their position. I believe, however, we are seeing instead more evidence of the forced perspective they impose upon themselves. Let's review the base assumptions upon which the above commentary is built:Where have I heard this before? Oh, right, these are bin Ladin's talking points, almost item by item. Not to imply the left as a whole supports bin Ladin, but, rather, to offer that they find him more honest, accurate and reliable than the current Administration. Now, would a reasonable person see this as more indicative of a problem with the Administration or a problem with its critics' perception and perspective?

Mark Brown is still wondering "about a timetable for [Bush's] exit strategy," never grasping that the only acceptable "exit strategy" is tied not to a timetable but to an event: victory. The Post says that Bush's adversaries "believe that Iraqi voters have seized the elections as the best means of thwarting U.S. domination of the country." Despite Mark Brown's consiliatory lede, both articles still rely upon their old assumptions that are rooted in the other assumption that Bush is bad and he can do no good. Perhaps denial is at the root, but the real symptom evidenced is a complete unwillingness to even question the wisdom and validity of their own assumptions. If this is denial or monumental arrogence, it still has the same effect.

Among the pundits, though, I think the most accurate prediction was actually made by Jon Stewart, when he said
"What if Bush, the president, ours, has been right about this all along? I feel like my world view will not sustain itself and I may ... implode."
I don't think he'll be alone.

(hat tip: link meister Glenn Reynolds)

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