Saturday, December 11, 2004

Managing Terror

In their post on Bernard Kerik's withdrawal from consideration as Secretary of Homeland Security, Powerline makes a rather interesting statement:
I hope the administration will come up with a replacement who, like Kerik, has a background in law enforcement and security rather than management.

What should I gather from this? First of all, I'm a bit curious as to why, after 18 months of assailing Democrats for viewing terrorism as a "law enforcement" issue, Powerline suddenly is deciding that law enforcement background is a prerequisite for fighting terror. Kind of a...oh I dunno, flip-flop, wouldn't you say?

But far, far more important is why Powerline is opposed to someone with a management background. The New Republic points out that the immediate problems with the DHS are mostly bureaucratic in nature; a fact that would suggest that an effective manager might be just what the doctor order for the DHS:
Overseeing a huge change in the bureaucracy while also trying to fend off terror attacks is a bit like juggling knives in the middle of the freeway. But even given realistic expectations, DHS has been a fiasco. Among other things, the department has failed to deliver on its original promise of consolidating the government's disparate terrorist watch lists. Its intended role as a clearinghouse for all terrorism-related intelligence--originally meant to be a core DHS mission--has largely been abandoned. And Homeland Security has been the site of never-ending personnel turmoil. Most recently, the department lost its thirtysomething cyber-security czar, Amit Yoran, after just one year on the job--he reportedly quit out of frustration with his lack of authority and limited budget. Aren't those sorts of bureaucratic headaches just the sort of thing DHS was supposed to eliminate?

Now, obviously someone with both management/bureaucracy experience AND security experience would be ideal (ironically, as TNR points out, the man who bests fits that bill is former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke. But snow will fall in hell before Powerline supports his nomination to a cabinet position). But there appear to be precious few men and women who fulfill both categories. Since its not as if the Bush administration contains a dearth of people who focus on National Security, perhaps it would be better if Bush appointed someone who could focus on cleaning the DHS' house.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Equality of Oppurtunity

Over at the relatively new Left2Right blog, Don Herzog (Professor of Law at the University of Michigan) has put up an interesting post on Equality of Oppurtunity. The only way that capitalism, and indeed liberalism, can be morally justified is if every person has an equal oppurtunity, at the start, to succeed. Just as privileges based on rank or title are abhorrent to a just and meritocratic system, so are priviliges and handicaps based on class or place of birth. So, while removing legal privileges and handicaps are part of the solution, they are not the whole. Herzog writes:
"It's not enough to stop handicapping some runners and privileging others. Equality of opportunity seems to depend on some version of equality of starting points. If the son of J. Paul Getty starts life with millions and goes to a fabulous school, and you start life in Watts and go to a "school" that is mostly about social control, it's worse than facetious to say, "okay, the two of you now should run the race; ready, set, go!" Yes, it's possible that you'll beat out the wealthy kid. But those of us who are standing on the sidelines betting will require pretty long odds to take you. Head starts in the race aren't fair, either.

This argument, and variations of it, are the best I've heard in favor of Affirmative Action. Cheryl I. Harris, Assistant Professor of Law notes:
"Brown I's dialectical contradiction was that it dismantled an old form of whiteness as property while simultaneously permitting its reemergence in a more subtle form. White privilege accorded as a legal right was rejected, but de facto white privilege not mandated by law remained unaddressed. In failing to clearly expose the real inequities produced by segregation, the status quo of substantive disadvantage was ratified as an accepted and acceptable base line -- a neutral state operating to the disadvantage of Blacks long after de jure segregation had ceased to do so. [n202] In accepting substantial inequality as a neutral base line, a new form of whiteness as property was condoned. Material inequities between Blacks and whites -- the product of systematic past and current, formal and informal, mechanisms of racial subordination -- became the norm." ["Whiteness as Property" 106 Harvard L. Rev. 1707 (June 1993), 1753]

I don't know (and I am skeptical) that it is ever possible to create an "equality of starting points." However, in the face of that reality the need to mitigate and ameliorate the unjust effects of unequal starting points has to be a primary goal of a liberal society. If the system is biased against some at the start, it cannot compound its bias by holding the disadvantaged liable for their own failures. At the same time, the government cannot hold everyones hand and refuse to impose any accountability on those who may just not be up to making the grade. Toeing the narrow line between them is hard to do, but it is a task that must be done if we are to truly live in a just society.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

FRC Lunancy, Part Two

A few days ago, Andrew Sullivan created The Malkin Award, going to the Polemicist who creates a sentence that is "entirely devised to insult; [is] completely devoid of originality; [has] at least two hoary, dead-as-a-Norwegian-parrot cliches; and assume[s] that readers already agree with the writer. Arbitrary mean-spiritedness wins extra points." Immediately thereafter, Sullivan had to disqualify Ann Coulter because "no one else would stand a chance."

Once prior to this, I have taken notice of an absolutely absurd argument forwarded by the Family Research Council. There have been many, many crazy things said by the FRC in the meantime. However, like Sullivan, I have concluded that to call the FRC out everytime they say something particularly boneheaded would leave me no time to do anything else. But this was too good to resist:
This week's news illustrates a perfect storm of sexual chaos that has descended upon virtually all institutions in American society--including the armed forces. First, a group of former service members sued to overturn the military's ban on homosexual conduct--a cause they believe was aided by an Army court decision overturning the criminal conviction of a soldier who engaged in a heterosexual sex act "in a military barracks." Meanwhile, the judge advocate general of the Air Force may lose his job for "fraternization" with various women, and sexual harassment and assaults are reported to be rampant at the Air Force Academy.

So, the military is embroiled in a sex crazed orgy because of a heterosexual sex act in a barracks and heterosexual harrassment by a senior officer. OK, with you so far. What's the FRC's conclusion?
All these stories suggest that Congress acted wisely when it codified the military ban on homosexual conduct on the grounds that putting people with sexual attractions to one another in conditions of "forced intimacy with little or no privacy" had the potential to undermine "morale, good order and discipline.", because heterosexuals are busy having illicit sex with each other in the military, this suggests that...banning homosexuals in the military was a good idea? I'm honestly at a loss to explain this folks, except to say that it appears that now the FRC would like to blame homosexuals for heterosexual promiscuity even where homosexuals are not involved and are barred from even being actively present in the institution. An impressive feat of tortured logic and ideological incoherence, even from the FRC.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Radical Center

Count me as part of this group:
"[DLC Policy Chief Ed] Kilgore is part of a remarkable phenomenon: the radicalizing of the center left. He's part of a crowd that includes people like Paul Krugman, Al Franken, Howard Dean, Atrios, and [Kevin Drum]: liberals who are basically fairly moderate in policy terms but who have been appalled to discover that what seems unthinkable actually appears to be true. The modern Republican party really does seem to want to wreck the federal government."

I consider myself center-left in terms of policy, but I come off as an extremist when it comes to the Republican party. This is because while I am drifting to the right, the GOP is racing off into rightwing oblivion, and they are using some of the shadiest and most underhanded tactics to bring the rest of us with them.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Left Cross

In my blog post "Left Hook", I linked to Peter Beihart's and Kevin Drum's posts on how liberals should respond to the threat of islamofascism. It attracted a fair bit of comments, including one pointing out that I can't spell "totalitarianism." I would make a defense that I had gotten very little sleep and was effectively braindead, but that would pretend that I can spell when I am awake. So I'll just lapse into fringe leftism for a moment and claim that grammar is an oppressive tool of the western capitalist imperialists. Hurray for playing to stereotypes!

There was only one explaination for why I had suddenly gotten real live commenters, and of course it was that Powerline had linked to me again! In deference to the fact that I doubt most Powerline readers want to read my enthusiastic endorsement of Jon Chait's "In Defense of Bush Hatred (again), I'll instead write on the dynamics of the left/right split with regards to terror, why I think the Democrats are better equipped to deal with the problem, and how they should go about doing it.

The key starting point for this conversation is the obvious: Republicans enjoy a tremendous advantage over Democrats when it comes to their perception on National Security. Grover Norquist described this as "Republicans are tough on crime to the point where they'll take away your civil liberties. Republicans are so tough on foreign policy that they'll flatten cities." But far from making the Republicans a stronger party on National Defense, it paradoxically makes them far weaker. Since Republicans enjoy a status quo advantage on National Security, they don't have to actually take any concrete actions (legislation, regulation, etc.) on the matter to "persuade" America they are tough. And because they don't have to, they don't, since many of the necessary pro-security actions are opposed by key donor bases (for example: strengthing security requirements at Chemical Plants is a clear defense necessity, but Republicans killed it because it served no political gain and would impose a cost requirement on a major business donor). By contrast, Democrats are seen as pacifistic and weak unless proven otherwise, so they are constantly forced to push pro-security intiatives to prove their security bona fides. Its no accident that the vast majority of Domestic Security reforms in the post 9/11 era--The DHS, The 9/11 Commission--were Democratic intiatives. Yet, the perceptual differences remain and plague Democrats at the ballot box. Since Republicans are seen as SO tough to the point that its considered possibly a flaw (IE, they're too reckless), attacks on Republicans from the Hawk side invariably fall flat. The GOP, dealing with a too good to be true reality that lets them reap all the benefits of being seen as pro-security without having to make the politically painful decisions that go along with it, has naturally taken a purely rhetorical stand on the matter: Lots of oratory on how Democrats don't care about our nation's defense, precious little action to actual make our country safer.

Furthermore, Conservatives are hindered with two philosophical burdens that hinder their ability to respond to their terror threat. The first is the desire for limited government. Conservatives generally believe in market-based solutions to problems. Indeed, the Bush administration fought against mandatory safety standards and terrorism insurance in vulnerable industries--power plants, chemical facilities, trucking, etc--on the grounds that "sufficient incentives exist in the private market to supply protection" [National Strategy for Homeland Security, July 2002]. However, in the March 3rd 2003 New Republic, Jonathan Chait explains why this logic doesn't hold water:
"At first glance, the administration's assumption that private industry has sufficiently strong incentives to shore itself up against terrorism appears sensible enough--nobody wants their property to be blown up, after all. This logic works perfectly well when it comes to encouraging private industry to guard against, say, burglary, where the victim bears the entire cost of the crime. But, as Brookings' Peter Orszag has noted, businesses hit by terrorism would not bear the entire cost themselves. First, they have every reason to expect a government bailout, like the airlines received after September 11. Second, some firms have interdependent security, which means their security precautions are worthless unless all their competitors follow suit. (The bomb that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988 was transferred to Pan Am after being initially checked through another airline.) Terrorist strikes upon a private business impose costs, both psychological and economic, upon the entire country. So, while a business owner may have no interest in spending more money to prevent terrorism than to prevent, say, an electrical fire, the nation's interest is quite different. For all these reasons, the logic of individual incentive breaks down when it comes to terrorism. "

The problems posed by terrorism are unique and grave in that they mandate government responses, ones that, yes, at times might require government regulation and intervention. But the GOP's business donor base and ideological resistance to government initiatives provide immense barriers to implementing the necessary security reforms.

The second philosophical problem for the GOP is their historical skepticism of the ability to for government to change minds. Again, their reticence to use government as a tool for spreading liberal and democratic values prevents them from hitting the root cause of terror, the state-sponsered oppression of millions of people around the world. Anyone who listened to GOP complaints about US operations in the Balkans surely understands that Republican committment to US peacekeeping and democratization operations is shallow at best. Laudably, the Bush administration and fellow Republicans pushed aside their qualms and did make the effort in Iraq to spread democratic values--originally. However, a mix of inexperience, hubris, and mistrust of US motives by Iraqi citizens (compounded by US missteps) led to the "hearts and minds" effort largely ending in failure. As of result of this, many Republicans are returning to form, voicing skepticism at the ability of the US to innoculate the people of Iraq and the world with western values and recommending that we abandon the effort and revert back to, at the very least, a realist foreign policy. This response is perhaps the worst that the US could take right now, but unfortunately it is also the one most consistant with the GOP's ideological roots.

What Republicans don't understand is that Iraqi mistrust of US democratization efforts isn't because of any hostility on the part of the Iraqi's to democracy per se. It speaks volumes about the character of the Iraqi people that the most powerful national figure, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, is also a committed democrat. Rather, the mistrust stems from a mistrust of motives, Iraqi's know (from personal experience and from basic observation of their neighbors) that the US has been perfectly willing to subvert democratic institutions and install friendly dictators when it serves American economic and realist interests to do so. Furthermore, the US has usually coached these actions in the same pro-liberal, pro-democratic rhetoric that we hear from the Bush administration today (cite: Chile, Vietnam). Hence, Iraqi's are understandably paranoid that President Bush's committment to liberalization is a facade, and every misstep and misstatement by the US occupying regime only amplifies these fears. Worse yet, US tolerance and praise of other dictatorships (in Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere), compounds the problem. The GOP still can't quite grasp that anti-Americanism is a global problem with roots in the gap between US rhetoric and US action; a gap that has its roots in US realist policies in the Cold War.

Because the roots of global terror are reified by longstanding US realist practices, the US has precious little credibilty and very little room to make mistakes. The first step is to disentangle US strategic interests from those that are fundamentally opposed to human rights and democratization. This means, at the very least, a reduction in our dependence on Middle East oil (another move the GOP is ill-equipped to do) and far more aggressive support for liberal and democratic movements around the world. The dictators of the world must realize that "making nice with the US" will not immunize them if they are oppressing their own citizens. But this stick must be met with an equal assortment of carrots. States that embark on the path to democracy and liberalization should be rewarded with economic aid, governmental assistance, and developmental program. The creation of a "Marshall Plan" for subsaharan Africa--but tied to the implementation of governmental reforms--is long overdue (if it would make the realists feel any better, this would help check against Chinese hegemonic ambitions in the region). For this task, it is the liberals, with their starry-eyed idealism and their geniune committment to pushing western values that are more aptly suited to the task. But in order to do it, they will have to shake off the degrading and detrimental sector of the party that believes any exercise of US power is ontologically oppressive and imperialist. Furthermore, while international help and assistance should be sought after, liberals with have to realize that many nations are still wedded to isolationist and/or self-interested concerns and won't join. The hand should be extended to the world to join the US in our efforts. But international recognition should not and cannot be a prerequisite for American action.

These projects are ambitious--and expensive. They will require, at the very least, repeal of the Bush Tax Cuts and probably the sacrifice of other domestic priorities at home. But in the long run, the US is far better served when the world sees the US as a force for positive social change, rather than a distant observer unconcerned with, or worse, actively aiding, the oppression of millions of people around the world.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Policies, Character, and Biased Neutrality

I've noted before that Jonathan Chait is the single writer I agree with most often. And it's articles like this one ("In Defense of Bush Hatred (Again)," sub. only) that are the reason why.
"I'd like nothing more than for American politics to revolve entirely around policy and for everybody to ignore personality. I'd happily vote for an obnoxious, philandering, dog-kicking tax cheat who carried out effective policies at home and abroad. Why, then, if the real basis for my opposition to Bush is his performance in office, would I even bother to mention my personal disdain for him? It's a reaction to his success at passing himself off as a moral paragon, and even as a great leader in the mold of Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, the intense personal animosity many harbor against Bush didn't really blossom until the last couple of years, in response to the absurd cult of personality that grew up around him in the wake of September 11."

I echoed this sentiment in my election post-mortum, and I do say again here. Policies are more important than subjective (and frankly biased) notions of "character." It may be natural to a Democracy to look toward the latter, but that doesn't make it valuable or right.

Chait also attacks the "thoughtful observers [who] tend to see any given problem as equally the fault of Democrats and Republicans, and...wish both sides could get along better." The point Chait is trying to make isn't that it's bad to observe thoughtfully. Rather, its that trying to pidgeonhole problems so that they fall equally on the shoulders of both parties is facile, stupid, and factually wrong. To me, objectivity in analysis means that one doesn't slavishly defend a single party or viewpoint, but neither does one go out of ones way to show off non-partisan credentials by attacking both sides. In one of my early blog posts, I quoted Chait and others in explaining how the latter flaw is systematic in the media today and undermines any reasonable claim that there is a "liberal media bias." The point isn't that non-partisanship is bad, it's that sometimes the facts fall decisively on one side of the partisan divide. People who try to say otherwise destroy their own credibility and cheapen the political discourse.

Black is White, Peace is War, Pakistan is a Democracy...

I'm going to be physically ill:
PRESIDENT BUSH: One of the interesting lessons that the world can look at is Pakistan. You see, there are some in the world who do not believe that a Muslim society can self-govern. Some believe that the only solution for government in parts of the world is for there to be tyranny or despotism. I don't believe that. The Pakistan people have proven that those cynics are wrong. And where President Musharraf can help in world peace is to help remind people what is possible. And the solution in the Middle East is for there to be a world effort to help the Palestinians develop a state that is truly free--one that's got an independent judiciary, one that's got a civil society, one that's got the capacity to fight off the terrorists, one that allows for dissent, one in which people can vote. And President Musharraf can play a big role in helping achieve that objective.

Yes, it's important to emphasize that Muslim states can be liberal Democracies that have vibrant civil societies and respect human rights. No, it's impossible to argue that Pakistan is emblematic of that type of nation without being addicted to Crack Cocaine.

I concur with TNR: Irony is officially dead (again).

DeLay on NASA

I can understand--not agree or justify, but understand--the Republicans pushing pet Conservative projects that cost obscene amounts of money *COUGH*Social Security Privitization*COUGH* even while we're in a deficit. After all, they're in control, they have a mandate, and have so much power that no one really can tell them no. However, I did think that, if only so they could have SOME plausible argument that they care about reducing the deficit, they would cut back on some of the more laughable, and expensive, projects, such as the Mission to Mars.

For those of you who have forgotten, President Bush proposed that we put a man on Mars in his last State of the Union address. It was, justifiably, met with laughter and scorn, and was quickly dropped. Or so we thought. Today, the Washington Post post reports that (who else) House Speaker Tom DeLay has added, without debate or a vote, the money neccessary to ressurrect the project:
President Bush's "Vision for Space Exploration," which would send humans to the moon and eventually to Mars, got a skeptical reception in January and was left for dead in midsummer, but it made a stunning last-minute comeback when DeLay delivered NASA's full $16.2 billion budget request as part of the omnibus $388 billion spending bill passed Nov. 20.

Why would DeLay do this? Surely it has NOTHING to do with the fact that the Johnson Space Center is in his newly redrawn district? Of course not! The reality is, DeLay put in the language because he hates America and wants to expand the deficit. Which answer is truly accurate? We report, YOU decide!