Monday, February 26, 2007

Have we lost sight of who the enemy is?

Seymour Hersh published a piece in the weekend alleging that the US is now seeking to undermine Iran by supporting Sunni extremists in Lebanon and in Iran itself. Sunni extremists that are very often aligned or sympathetic with, Al Qaeda.

Now normally I don't believe Hersh. He's been wrong more often than right and there are quite a few media people who suspect he's so gullible he's used as a disinformation source by the Pentagon. But here he has some pretty solid sources, such as a senior House member on a powerful committee.

So what to make of this? It looks like once again Bush is taking his eye off the ball. We were attacked by Al Qaeda on 9/11, invaded Afghanistan, which was a good idea, then took our eye off the ball to attack Iraq. Now I supported that war and still hope for success. I understood the strategy behind invading Iraq. But I also learn from mistakes. We made a major strategic error. We should have concentrated on Al Qaeda before opening up a new front and trying a democratization project.

Now Bush is doing it again, training his guns on Iran. It's unlikely that we'll actually go to war with Iran. Our ground forces are too exhausted. We could do an air war, but what would that accomplish? The military insists that we cannot eliminate Iran's nuclear program with an air war. So what's left is undermining Iran with covert aid to guerillas inside Iran and trying to take apart Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Those objectives are worthy. Iran is an enemy state that has committed numerous acts of aggression since 1979 that are internationally recognized as acts of war. However, fighting that enemy by aiding Al Qaeda doesn't strike me as the right way to go about this, to put it mildly.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The lame Hillary Clinton blog

Yes, I know campaign blogs are lame in general, but this one is ultra lame. It's just so transparently a politician blog it's painful. Let's start with Clinton's own post today:

It's now just over a month that I have been in to win.

Oh my. A slogan. That's so corporate chic. Reminds me of Pizza Hut.

The rest, if you care to read it, is pure pap. Not a substantive sentence in there.

Then we get down to Howard Wolfson's response to David Geffen's attacks on Clinton:

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd published a column (sub. required) today that quotes David Geffen, finance chairman of Senator Barack Obama's Presidential campaign, attacking Hillary and Bill Clinton and saying that "America was better served when the candidates were chosen in smoke-filled rooms."

I made the following statement today in response, and I wanted to share it with you:

"While Senator Obama was denouncing slash and burn politics yesterday, his campaign's finance chair was viciously and personally attacking Senator Clinton and her husband.

"If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign and return his money.

"While Democrats should engage in a vigorous debate on the issues, there is no place in our party or our politics for the kind of personal insults made by Senator Obama's principal fundraiser."

First, Wolfson lies by claiming that Geffen is Obama's principle fundraiser or his campaign finance chair. He is neither. He simply held a fundraiser for Obama. He is not formally tied to the campaign.

Second, and much funnier, is what follows:

Senator Obama's campaign responded, and I've just released the following statement: "By refusing to disavow the personal attacks from his biggest fundraiser against Senator Clinton and President Clinton, Senator Obama has called into serious question whether he really believes his own rhetoric.

How can Senator Obama denounce the politics of slash & burn yesterday while his own campaign is espousing the politics of trash today?

"When one of Senator Clinton's supporters made an inappropriate statement, her campaign disavowed it immediately and the supporter apologized for his words. Why won't Senator Obama do the same?"

Notice that Wolfson said the Obama campaign responded, but never linked to the actual response, which was this:

“It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when he was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln Bedroom.”

I can see why Wolfson wouldn't want anyone to be reminded of that.

Clinton is re-running the 1992 race. Fighting the last war. She just doesn't get it. She's making a show of adopting modern campaign tactics, but it's only an inch deep. Her blog is meaningless, and her advisors are playing the same game they played in 1992. That was good enough to beat Bill Clinton's clumsy opponents then, but it won't be good enough to beat a strong Democratic field in 2008, much less McCain or Giuliani.

I do like Hillary Clinton, but she's got a credibility gap. She won't close it by doing a by the numbers fluff campaign. She has to campaign as if she's Dennis Kucinich. Every candidate does. We're in an age where blogs penetrate right through BS like a knife through butter and mercilessly attack meaningless fluff in campaign speeches or blog posts. These candidates need to say what they mean and mean what they say, or else they'll lose to someone who will. Somebody's going to figure that out among the high profile candidates, and whoever that is will win this race.

Maybe the first time I've ever disagreed with Sowell

Thomas Sowell, to me, is one of the finest writers on economics we've ever seen. He clearly lays things out in ways laymen can understand.

But for the first time, I think he dropped the ball:

Senator Barack Obama recently said, “let’s allow our unions and their organizers to lift up this country’s middle class again.”

Ironically, he said it at a time when Detroit automakers have been laying off unionized workers by the tens of thousands, while Toyota has been hiring tens of thousands of non-union American automobile workers.

Labor unions, like the government, can change prices — in this case, the price of labor — but without changing the underlying reality that prices convey.

Neither unions nor minimum wage laws change the productivity of workers. All they can do is forbid the employer from paying less than what the government or the unions want the employer to pay.

I refer back to my minimum wage post. Sowell's argument makes perfect sense as long as you assume that both sides have equal bargaining power. But in reality, they don't. Business, unless we are talking about skills in huge demand, has an inherent advantage, because they don't bargain for wages. They SET wages and the employee either has to accept or find another employer, where more often than not he is offered another take it or leave it situation.

Now of course that doesn't mean there is not still competition. Businesses can and do set wages higher to gain a competitive advantage in luring workers. And obviously this whole thing falls apart at higher skill levels, because highly skilled workers know that if businesses won't bargain with them they can walk out and another business will. However, businesses do have an advantage when it comes to low and mid-skilled labor, and they further cement that advantage, by as I noted in my previous post, taking away the ability to bargain from their managers and putting pay rates in a distant HR office or much higher up in management. So that even if a manager wants to get a certain job seeker, he's constrained by company policy from offering a wage that both he and the prospective employee could agree on.

What a union does is make things more equal. The union forces management to directly bargain. And here's where Sowell goes really wrong. He compares union bargaining to government setting higher wages. They are apples and oranges. A company is not forced to give a union higher wages, any more than a worker is forced to accept a low wage from an employer. It's still a free market, just with the parties being on a more equal footing in terms of bargaining power.

There are good reasons to not like unions, and even better ones to oppose Obama's specific plans for unionizing more workers(card check). But the idea that they distort the market is not one of them.

I'd be remiss if I didn't comment on the rest of Sowell's column, which has even more stuff I don't fully agree with:

Senator Obama is for making college “affordable,” as if he has never considered that government subsidies push up tuition, just as government subsidies push up agricultural prices, the price of medical care and other prices.

He is also for “alternative fuels,” without the slightest thought about the prices of those fuels or the implications of those prices. All this is the old liberal agenda from years past, old wine in new bottles, a new face with old ideas that have been tried and failed repeatedly over the past generation.

Senator Obama is not unique among politicians who want to control prices, as if that is controlling the underlying reality behind the prices.

I do love it that Sowell mentions that you can't control prices. You can't. It's like trying to alter the laws of physics. But Obama is not suggesting price controls, he's suggesting using tax revenues to help less well off Americans afford certain goods and services. Once again, you can disagree with that agenda, but it's not price controls and it is not impossible to accomplish. If I give money to my neighbor's kid to go to college, he goes to college. It doesn't push prices up or ignore reality. That only happens if I go and force the university President at gunpoint to set tuition at 75% less than it is now. Then, bad things would happen as all sorts of students attended and found that they had to sit out in the grass and sleep on park benches because there was no money for dormitories or classrooms.

And what's with dissing alternative fuels? Gasoline was once an alternative fuel. He could be referring to something else in Obama's plans, but he doesn't elaborate. He just gives the impression that weaning off gasoline would mean higher prices. It would in the short term, but as new alternatives become viable it could mean cheaper gasoline as demand slackens.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


The latest blog cage match seems to involve Glenn Reynolds again, who advocated the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists and mullahs. It's kind of odd that Prof. Reynolds is the subject of so much controversy, seeing as how he's been running one of the least shrill blogs on the internet, Instapundit. So anytime someone accuses the good professor of being a wingnut, I take notice. And that's exactly what many liberal bloggers, most notably Glenn Greenwald and Scott Lemieux, did.

I'll comment on Lemieux's post, here:

Mainly because unlike Greenwald, a normally reasonable blogger who could only express moral outrage and horror rather than reasoned arguments, Lemieux actually challenged Reynolds' idea with probing questions. Such as:

Could anyone be dumb enough to think that the American assassination of Iranian clerics, scientists and/or political leaders would help liberal forces in Iran?

Would propping up the regime with energy assistance help the liberal forces in Iran? Okay, that's not fair, since it's just answering a question by posing another question. Never mind that the Greenwalds and Lemieuxs of the world have never particularly cared one way or another about the Iranian liberals, at least judging by the dearth of blog posts on Iran's liberals. Oh yeah, the question. No, assassinating clerics and scientists wouldn't help. It wouldn't hurt either. When Iraqi insurgents pick off Iraqi government people, does that strengthen the government and support for the government? It wouldn't do any favors for Iran's government either.

That killing a couple scientists would make Iran less determined to acquire nuclear weapons?

Determination doesn't build nuclear weapons anymore than determination gets us a cure for cancer.

That these kinds of covert ops are remotely viable?

Lemieux could have a point here. But that's the only valid argument, in my opinion: can it be done? If it can't, we shouldn't. If it can, we should.

Then Lemieux concludes with this attack:

The whole thing is nuttier than a Planters factory, and Reynolds can't even be bothered to begin an argument on the merits. This should be irrelevant to his job, of course, but that anybody takes anything he writes about foreign policy seriously is remarkable.

Read Glenn Reynolds' op-ed and decide for yourself:

Looks to me like he made reasoned arguments:

History first: There’s nothing beyond the pale about suggesting assassination and covert action as an alternative to warfare. In 1998, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Joseph Biden, D-Del., asked the government to look into assassination as a means of dealing with terrorists; Sen. Chuck Robb, D-Va., suggested assassinating Saddam Hussein the same year. On Jan. 3, 2001, Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., introduced legislation to facilitate the assassination of terrorists. And in 1997, George Stephanopoulos wrote: “A misreading of the law or misplaced moral squeamishness should not stop the president from talking about assassination. He should order up the options and see if it’s possible. If we can kill Saddam, we should.” If this be fascism, make the most of it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Andrew Sullivan is currently having a conversation about whether Mark Steyn and Glenn Reynolds are insufficiently opposed to genocide of Muslims.

I'd say the answer should be self-evident to any student of history. Steyn and Reynolds are as opposed to genocide of Muslims as FDR was opposed to genocide of the Japanese in 1933.

Right now we are involved in a limited war. We have decided that civilians are not the enemy, but people who must be persuaded to reject the fundamentalists competing with us in this war of ideas. If we win the war of ideas, we win. Huzzah.

But what happens if we lose this war of hearts and minds and most Muslims embrace the fundamentalists? What happens if we start taking thousands of civilian casualties on the US mainland on a regular basis? What happens if many Muslim governments fall to fundies and declare jihad against the US?

What would happen then is obvious: total war. We'll pummel them until they either surrender or are eradicated, and the vast majority of us won't particularly care which path they choose, anymore than Americans in 1945 were particularly concerned for how many Japanese we had to kill to win the war. The only thing Americans feared in 1945 was that we'd take a million casualties invading Japan. 90% of Americans would gladly have seen every last Japanese man, woman, and child killed if it would end the war without taking those casualties.

In 1945, before the atomic bombs were dropped, Truman stated that if Japan did not surrender unconditionally, the Japanese nation faced total destruction. Genocide.

I conclude with a quote from Admiral Halsey shortly after Pearl Harbor: “Before we’re through with’em the Japanese language will be spoken in hell!”

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

And another thing....

From Ezra Klein's blog:

The first item on their "why John McCain" page:

The world is a dangerous place, and we need a leader who is ready to assume the job as Commander in Chief on day one of the Presidency. No candidate has the experience or is better prepared for this task than John McCain. America is engaged in a war against violent Islamist extremism. A totalitarian enemy declared war on America, attacked our nation on September 11, 2001, and is committed to the destruction of the values we hold dear.

So vote McCain or the terrorists will kill you. Charming. This is the guy who's going to run a campaign of class and principle.

What the hell kind of interpretation is that? McCain is just pointing out the obvious. A totalitarian enemy declared war on America and we have to defeat them. You would think this is something liberals and conservatives and centrists all agree on.

We could take this line of reasoning to its absurd conclusion: Vote for Edwards or you'll lose your job!

And liberals wonder why people are suspicious of their seriousness on national security. Well, when you go around screaming "crisis!" at every turn(global warming, health care, the middle class squeeze), but then when planes slam into the Twin Towers you imply that we're all just being paranoid, people start to wonder about your priorities.

Oh the horror!

Greg Sargent is all offended because Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs has sort of advocated the assassination of three of the most heinous dictators in the world.

.those targets, of course, being Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Now you may think that taking out dictators is unwise. It is certainly illegal. But it sure doesn't sound to me like something to get worked up over. I would shed no tears if any of those men were taken out. All three of them are responsible for the deaths of Americans. The fact that there are people in this country who are adamantly opposed to justice does concern me, however. And notice how they are all on one side of the political spectrum?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Card check

Matt Yglesias discusses the new card check legislation Congress is trying to pass. Basically, what card check is for those who don't know, is a change in unionization rules. Currently, in order to unionize, a workforce has to sign cards saying they want to organize. Once 30% of workers sign these cards, an election is held, by secret ballot. If a majority wants to unionize, then it's done. To reverse the process and deorganize, workers do the same thing in reverse.

One would wonder what the problem is with this process. It seems pretty fair and straightforward. Well, the problem, at least for those who want to see more unions, is that in recent years it has resulted in fewer workers being in unions.

So here's what the new law would do: it would simply allow the creation of a union if a majority of workers sign the cards.

Now why is this a bad thing? Because it gets rid of the secret ballot. Workers can be intimidated by labor bosses to sign. Also, workers can't decertify the union by the reverse method.

One theme you'll see a lot of on this blog if I ever get around to posting frequently is fairness. I believe that as much as it is possible to do so, our system of government should be fair. My own definition of fair is that we all abide by the same rules. That we use as consistent a philosophy as possible. And that we don't change the rules just because we're seeing a result we don't like, unless the vast majority of parties affected by those rules agree there needs to be a change.

In this case, we have a situation where the rules in place are eminently fair. Democrats want to replace it with a system that doesn't pass the fairness test in any respect. It changes a system that isn't broken to the detriment of both business and workers who don't want to organize. It is also philosophically inconsistent with the Democratic ideal of secret ballots in elections.

This is nothing more than a baldfaced power grab by organized labor in an effort to reverse their increasing irrelevancy in the modern economy. If organized labor wants to win more elections in workplaces, they might consider changing their approach. Labor should be concentrating on using their bargaining power to raise wages and benefits and improve working conditions. Not on stupid work rules and insistence on seniority over merit in terms of promotions and pay raises. The reason there are fewer unions is simply that fewer workers want to be in unions.

President Bush should veto card check if it passes. It is horrible legislation that endangers the liberties of the majority of workers who do not want to unionize. According to the AFL-CIO's own polls, most workers do not want a union.

For those who do, it's called an election and a secret ballot.

Are we pissed off?

Atrios asks:

One does wonder why the 101st Fighting Keyboarders aren't more upset by the fact that George Bush has fucked up their pet war. I don't line up with the "incompetence dodgers" but that doesn't mean that there wasn't immense amount of incompetence. What the consequence of slightly less incompetence would have been I do not know, but it would have at least smelled a bit nicer.This was their mission, their grandiose cause, their Battle Between Good and Evil. And George Bush fucked it up. Why aren't they pissed off?Oh, looks like I already answered the question.

Maybe Atrios doesn't read enough blogs outside the liberal universe, but there are a lot of PO'd people who supported the war and are angry at the incompetence with which it has been waged. Andrew Sullivan, Greg Djeijerian, pretty much all of the liberal hawks at TNR, and John Cole. Sure, there are still some cheerleaders for Bush out there, but those sites are so blatantly partisan and part of the Republican noise machine that they should easily be see for what they are.

As for myself, I didn't vote for Bush in 2004 because of his incompetence, so call me one who figured it out early. But I still hope for success, because really, failure just isn't an option in Iraq. This isn't Vietnam, where we can just abandon the field and the only ones who will suffer will be Iraqis. That's not to say there aren't good arguments supporting withdrawal, but we need to candidly deal with the consequences of that withdrawal. We can't just wash our hands of this.

The main reason half my posts are about 2008 is because I can't wait for new leadership. I'm not one to say that ANYONE would be better than Bush, but most of the top tier candidates are clearly superior to him.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Obama-Howard kerfuffle

The Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, has said that terrorists should pray for Barack Obama to be elected President.

While that is unusual in itself for a fellow Western leader to be picking on Presidential candidates, what is more interesting is Obama's response:

The Democratic presidential hopeful said if the Australian prime minister was "ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq," he needs to send another 20,000 Australians to the war.

He's right. The only two nations that have contributed as much as they can to the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq are the US and Britain. Everyone else has contributed either token forces or small forces that are only a fraction of what they are capable of sending. It almost seems as if Australia and Continential Europe are willing to fight to the last Brit and American to defeat Al Qaeda.

As to the merits of what Howard said, Obama only favors getting out of Iraq. There are good reasons to want to get our troops out of Iraq. There are good reasons to keep them there as well. It's a contentious war domestically and a difficult conflict to resolve within Iraq itself. Obama has said the right things on Iran and North Korea, in my opinion. Willing to negotiate, but military force is not going to be taken off the table.