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(and some commentary)

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20040824 Dan Drezner is singing the deficit blues - 'tis sad but true.

20040815 The Washington Post has an in-depth article on OSHA under the Bush administration. Here are my favorite excerpts:
In the past 3 1/2 years, OSHA, the branch of the Labor Department in charge of workers' well-being, has eliminated nearly five times as many pending standards as it has completed. It has not started any major new health or safety rules, setting Bush apart from the previous three presidents, including Ronald Reagan.
Since the younger Bush took office, federal agencies have begun roughly one-quarter fewer rules than Clinton and 13 percent fewer than Bush's father during comparable periods.
John D. Graham, who holds the same job [deputy budget director for information and regulatory affairs] in the Bush White House, said regulations are "a form of unfunded mandate that the federal government imposes on the private sector or on state or local governments."
A few months later, Graham, the White House's top regulatory official, was alerting agencies that they would face closer scrutiny from the OMB when they proposed new rules. The day after he was confirmed by the Senate, he sent the first of 14 letters to agencies saying they had failed to prove the need for regulations they had proposed. That was more than had been sent during Clinton's eight years.
At OSHA, The Post's analysis found, the rules the agency has proposed are narrower than most of those it has eliminated. Thirteen of the 24 proposals it has canceled since Bush took office fall into a category the government classifies as "economically significant," meaning they would cost or save the economy at least $100 million. None of the 16 standards OSHA has proposed during that time falls in that group.
This stuff is pocket change next to Bush's expansion of Medicare, but I think I'd better savor this good news before reverting to my usual state, pining for seemingly unreachable ideals like leaving intrastate workplace regulations to the states, Tenth-Amendment-style.

20040815 After my previous post, I think it only fair to mention that the Iraqi government apparently wants its troops to carry out the final assault in Najaf, which is actually a good idea if (and this is a big "if") their troops are up to it and the Iraqi leaders aren't going to chicken out.

20040814 I can't say it better than this Cox & Forkum cartoon. (Thanks to the Belmont Club for the link and usual quality commentary.)

20040814 Time flies: in just eight days, I'll be flying to Madison and grad school. I didn't get as much research done over the summer as I'd like, though I did better than I feared. Regardless, I've had a great time with my family. Just three days ago I introduced my sisters Anne and Julie to Quake II, and now Julie is as good as me. (I'm not that good, at least compared to the folks I've played with at MIT.) Still, it feels like it wasn't that long ago that I was just arriving here. Indeed, it doesn't feel like it was that long ago that I was a freshman watching movies in MIT lectures halls with my old pals.

All right, enough of this self-indulgent sentimentalism. Let's move on to my self-indulgent habit of reading opinion on the internet. Here's a thoughtful Slate piece on racsim. And this longer Policy Review article speculates on the future of terrorism. It's got lots of good thoughts, but it doesn't have the specificity I found here.

20040811 Talk about brazen! Who do these Iranians think they are? North Korea?

20040811 More quantum blogging: Over the past few days, I've finally bitten the bullet and starting reading (big pdf) about loop quantum gravity, the major alternative to string theory in the quest to unify quantum physics and general relativity. I've been a fan of string theory for over a year now, but now I think I've found something better.

Back when I was taking a string theory class in 2003, I learned that the way to quantize gravity was to treat the curvature of spacetime it causes as a pertubation of flat spacetime and then quantize that. In the context of string theory, this procedure nicely gives you gravitons and such. (In the conventional quantum field theory, trying this gives all sorts of nasty infinities, hence the need for something like string theory or loop quantum gravity.) The problem with this, which hadn't really registered with me until now, is that this doesn't take general relativity seriously. GR says there is no preferred coordinate system, flat or curved. Period.

Loop quantum gravity takes what I think is the right approach. Coordinate invariance is assumed from the start. The cost is that a lot of mathematical tools from conventional quantum field theory no longer work; one is left with a "bare-bones" version of the quantum formalism. Although I've got a lot more reading to do and limited leisure time for such reading, I've already learned some of the interesting things that the loop quantum gravity researchers have managed to predict after slogging through the math. For instance, the spacetime is a quantum superposition of discrete objects at the Planck scale. Just as molecules have discrete emissions spectra, "regions" of space have discrete volume spectra. In contrast, string theory and conventional quantum field theory assume a continuous spacetime at all scales.

20040810 An unsurprising LAT article: European diplomats are already expressing concerning that Kerry's expectations of additional European troops in Iraq are unrealistic. Meanwhile, "Senior Iraqi officials told U.S. officials this summer that they opposed the idea of bringing in additional troops from any foreign country."

20040810 More on the Afshar experiment: John Cramer makes the case against the Copenhagen and many-worlds interpretations.
I predict that a new generation of "Quantum Lawyers" will begin to populate the physics literature with arguments challenging what "is" is and claming that the wounded interpretations never said that interference should be completely absent in a quantum which-way measurement.
I'll reserve judgement until I've listened to some of these quantum lawyers.

20040810 I've long been one of those folks just not satisfied with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. It's too positivist; essentially claiming that all there is is correlations of measurements. I can't accept that. There is something out there, whether it be particles, waves, or very tiny gnomes. The other thing I don't like about it is the postulated mysterious "collapse" of wave functions, which I have never found more plausible than saying, "It's magic."

What stands between me and a better interpretation? Bell's inequality, and the experimentally verified violations thereof. I won't go into the definition of Bell's inequality here. The violations of Bell's prove that the two following principles cannot simultaneously be true.

(1) Locality. Nothing physical can propagate faster than speed of light. Using a little bit of relativity, one can show locality is equivalent to the even more plausible principle that all observers agree that cause always precedes effect.

(2) Realism. There is a meaningful answer to the counterfactual question, "What would have been the result of performing measurement X?" It's okay if the answer is a probability distribution, but there has to be an answer.

Faced with this dilemma, my response is and always has been, "Okay, (1) has got to go." (Note: denying (1) doesn't necessarily entail the possibility superluminal communication or time-travel, a subtlety I don't wish to go into here.) This has led me to embrace the existence of non-local hidden variables, particularly as expressed in Bohmian mechanics. A particularly appealing aspect of Bohmian mechanics is that it explains the ubiquitous probabilities in quantum physics in terms of a deterministic process, rather than treating the probabilities as fundamental. My biggest problem with Bohmian mechanics is that, as its own supporters admit, they haven't quite worked out a way to make it compatible with relativity. I also have a small problem with what I consider its mathematical inelegance.

But last week Geekpress made me aware of a new experiment. Reading about the experiment, and the experimenter Afshar's claim of falsifying the Copenhagen interpretation, I regret to say that I'm not sure if I agree with his claim or not, as I'm not exactly sure what the Copenhagen interpretation would predict the result to be. At issue are subtle distinctions about exactly what the Copenhagen interpretation says and how to interpret that in terms of Afshar's experiment. Even if the Copenhagen interpretation has been falsified (that's an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence), I've no idea whether the wound is fatal or treatable by a minor tweak.

As a side effect of following Geekpress's link, I was introduced to the apparently rather obscure transactional interpretation of quantum mechanics by John Cramer. I find this interpretation to be very elegant, especially in comparison to all the additional mathematic structure Bohmian mechanics adds on to the usual, beautiful quantum mathematical formalism. Crucially, the transactional interpretation embraces relativity. For me, the only drawback is that it is inherently probabilistic, unlike Bohmian mechanics.

The approach of the transactional interpretation is to explain things completely atemporally. One looks at the whole of space-time: past, present, and future. One then uses boundary conditions to determine what is possible. The fact that time moves forward (e.g. Second Law of Thermodynamics) is explained by a boundary condition on the universe! (For what is probably the simplest example of the use of boundary conditions in quantum physics, see the particle in a box.) For the next step, one uses Cramer's concept of transaction to calculate the probability distribution of the possible events. These probability distributions mathematically must agree with the usual probability distributions predicted by quantum physics. (If the probability distributions disagreed, then the transactional interpretation would be a new physical theory, not an interpretation of an existing one.)

Thus, my new dilemma is, do I embrace the nice probabilistic theory, or do I hold out for a relativistic theory in which "God does not play dice"?

20040810 The Washington Post has a good article on the likely future of Al Qaeda. The prediction is that Al Qaeda will develop a "political arm" that runs for office and/or provides social services. I find this argument very compelling:
Following the historical pattern of terrorist movements everywhere -- from Russia's Bolsheviks to the Irish Republican Army to Palestine's Hamas -- we can expect that within a decade al Qaeda will open one, or possibly several, political fronts in predominantly Islamic states, transforming itself from a deadly but diffuse terrorist movement into implacably hostile governmental factions throughout the Middle East that will pose critical geostrategic challenges to America and our allies.
20040809 It's about time:
Saudi Arabia plans to hold its first nationwide elections starting in November, seen as the first concrete political reforms in the country's absolute monarchy, a government source said on Wednesday.

The source from the Municipal Affairs Ministry told Reuters the first stage of the local elections would be held in the capital Riyadh after the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan ends in mid-November.

The elections will elect half of the members of the nearly 180 municipal councils nationwide, while the rest are expected to be appointed by the government.
20040809 In Finland, internet addiction makes you unfit for military service.

20040809 We don't need more firemen.

20040808 This is disturbing. I sincerely hope Tacitus is wrong.

20040807 If we're serious about doing something about Darfur, then here is an assessment of what it will take. My thoughts run along the lines of, "Let's get started." I don't think a conflict can be avoided at this stage. Whatever the nature of Sudan's complicity with the savage Janjaweed militias, does anyone really expect Sudanese government to pick a fight with them? In terms of domestic politics, the Sudanese government is probably better off losing a fight with the West, which is contemplating a humanitarian mission, not regime change.

20040807 I didn't expect my first vote in a presidential election to require much thought; the choice would be clear. But after Bush pushed for one big government program after another, I became ambivalent. I started to ask myself whose election was more really likely to do control the growth the state. I'm still not sure. Meanwhile, there are other considerations:
If they knew and believed that the US commitment to the new Iraqi government would remain strong no matter who won the election, that would be immensely helpful. Sadly, they have no basis right now for any such conclusion. On this issue, as on so many others, Kerry seems hell-bent on avoiding any perception of having taken a stand. Even the Boston Globe, the NYTimes, and the Wapo have noticed.

He's said he won't pull out. But he's also said that going in was a mistake. And he's talked about ways of pulling out. He's on all sides of this issue, just as he seems to be on all sides of nearly every other substantive issue. ... But on this one issue, his refusal to break character by speaking frankly, speaking to the point, has significant foreign policy ramifications. It increases doubt for Iraqis about American commitment, and therefore makes an insurgent victory seem more plausible.

And that is a victory for the insurgents. It actually does make an insurgent victory more likely.
This is one the biggest reasons why, although I find it awfully tempting to punish Bush for his expansion of non-Defense government, and try to stop the damage he's doing to the conservative movement, I don't think doing so is in the best interests of my country.

Moreover, it's not like Kerry would be better. For example, the folks at Reason are not happy with Kerry's record on civil liberties. (Among other things, Kerry authored the money-laundering provisions of the Patriot Act, threats to privacy and all.) On so many important issues, they roughly agree.

So what are the differences, and how do I weigh them? On domestic issues, I only expect the outcome to make a big difference for two things: one is Supreme Court appointments. I'm an originalist and I'm socially conservative. Advantage: Bush, with the "no more Souters" proviso. The other thing is whether we have gridlock again. Gridlock won't significantly shrink government, but it might (see Gringrich years) or might not (see Clinton's second term) significantly restrain the growth of government. Advantage: Kerry, hopefully.

Now to foreign policy. It's hard to discern what Kerry will do vis-a-vis Iraq, but as Steven den Beste argued, a Kerry victory will probably hurt Iraq, at least in the short run. Advantage: Bush. It's even more difficult to discern what Bush or Kerry plan to do about Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. My best guess is that Bush would be more stubborn and belligerent than Kerry. (I find Bush's continued refusal to concede much of anything to North Korea instructional here.) Advantage: Bush. As for Kerry's talk about allies, I strongly believe that nations' interests matter a lot more to them than kind words, and that if elected, Kerry's kind words will amount to just that - kind words; hence, they're not a major factor in my decision.

There is a third factor that doesn't obey the domestic/foreign dichotomy. It's the "throw out the bums" factor. The Bush administration has committed errors, some willful, some accidental, some more negligent than others. Medicare drug subsidies, farm subsidies, tariffs, not enough ground troops in Afghanistan or Iraq, poor planning for post-war Iraq, etc. Do I want my vote to say that these things are ok? And do I want another Republican president to repeatedly betray his base like Nixon did, and get away with it like Nixon did in '72? Advantage: not voting.

For me, the scale still tips on Bush's side. But I won't shed any tears if he loses.

If I were voting based on my emotions, it'd be no contest. Bush has always struck me as earnest and pious, while Kerry doesn't make any impression on me at all. But Jimmy Carter also strikes me as earnest and pious. Decent guys aren't necessarily the best presidents, though the best presidents were decent guys.

20040807 Yeah, I haven't blogged in a while. My mind has been on math. I found some a bunch of new results and couldn't resist adding them to my ever-lengthening paper on branch products. (Yes, I coined that term.) Hydra-like, I have split two non-interacting parts of the paper into two separate papers. One paper seems almost done, meaning I haven't thought of any new results for a while and have proofread it a few times. If I'm smart, I'll submit it to Order before I do think of anything to add to it. The other paper is not-so-done, as all the new results belong in it.

I've been able to do both plenty of math and blogging in the past. But it's August, and dial-up is taxing. My tentative response to all this is to expand my blog to include my thoughts on interesting stuff I found offline, as well as online. Here's my first attempt:
(The pie reads "a Milovich pie.") That's one of about ten pies my second sister Julie has made this week. As usual, when her heart is in a task, she never disappoints. You see, the apples came from our apple tree, and something had to be done before they all rotted.

If this bores you, then fear not, for I have some political posts in the hopper and should get at least one of these posts up today.

20040728 Arnold Kling over TCS reminds us about economic reality when it comes to Saudi Arabia and our dependence on their oil. Conclusion:
The real issue is the alleged Saudi funding of terror. No matter how much demand we withdraw from the oil market, the Saudis will have revenue and we have to be concerned with how they use it.

If cutting off funding is critical to winning the war on terror, then we must press the Saudis on that point. We should tell them that we respect their rights as a sovereign nation, but they owe it to the community of nations to not fund terrorists. If that approach does not work, then it is a waste of time to wring our hands over our "dependence on foreign oil." The only fallback position is the one suggested by my wife: just take the oil.
20040725 The 9/11 Commission's report provides new information about Flight 93:
At 9:57, about seven minutes before the end, one of the passengers ended her phone conversation saying: "Everyone's running up to first class. I've got to go. Bye."

Soon after, Ziad Jarrah, sitting at the controls, began rolling the plane to thwart the passengers. Just after 10 a.m., he is heard on the cockpit voice recorder saying: "Is that it? Shall we finish it off?"

But another hijacker responds: "No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off."

The voice recorder captured sounds of continued fighting, and Mr. Jarrah pitched the plane up and then down. A passenger is heard to say: "In the cockpit. If we don't we'll die!"

Then a passenger yelled, "Roll it!" While earlier accounts reported the phrase as "Let's roll," which was repeated in speeches by President Bush and became the title of a best-seller, some aviation experts have speculated that this was actually a reference to a food cart, being used as a battering ram.

Mr. Jarrah "stopped the violent maneuvers" about 10:01, according to the report.

"He then asked another hijacker in the cockpit, 'Is that it? I mean, shall we put it down?' to which the other replied, 'Yes.' '' Eighty seconds later, a hijacker is heard to say: "Pull it down! Pull it down!"

Soon after, the plane plunged into a field in Shanksville, Pa., about 20 minutes flying time from Washington.
"Let's roll" is one of those things that, if isn't true, it ought to be. In any case, the heroes of flight 93 are heroes for what they did, not for what they said.

20040725 A lengthy compilation of July's good news from Iraq.

20040725 A surprising quote:
A society of different lifestyles spawned a group of young people who were brought up without parental discipline, without proper role models and without any sense of responsibility to others.... Today, people have had enough of this part of the 1960s consensus. People do not want a return to old prejudices and ugly discrimination. But they do want rules, order and proper behaviour. They want a community where the decent law-abiding majority are in charge.
Tony Blair, the leader of the Labour party, said this last week.

Here are some other interesting quotes.
And I think that's a proper role for the federal government, to help people.
We've increased federal funding for K through 12 by 49 percent from 2001.
Those are from Bush's recent speech at the Urban League. Now I'm no libertarian, but I am a federalist, and I know there was a time when Republicans talked about getting rid of the Department of Energy and the Department of Education.

Not long after I found these quotes, I discovered that Jonah Goldberg's latest NRO column is on the same topic. He had found a Bush quote of his own:
[T]he role of government is to stand there and say, 'We're going to help you.' The job of the federal government is to fund the providers who are actually making a difference.
The "providers" are marriage counselors. Goldberg complained about this in The Corner and got an email, from no less than the (Or is it "an"?) assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, saying that
By offering marriage-education services — on a purely voluntary basis — to interested couples whereby they can develop the knowledge and skills necessary to form and sustain healthy marriages, we will help reduce the need for more intrusive government interventions later on.
Read the whole column for Goldberg's response. The bottom line, as Goldberg correctly puts it, is that "at the end of the day, I would still trade every dollar of creative social policy for a dollar of budget cuts."

Goldberg had more to say on this subject in an older column:
While I still think it would be bad for America if Bush lost the election to Kerry — and terrible for Republicans — it's less clear it would be bad for the conservative movement.
Last Labor Day [in 2003], George W. Bush told a crowd, "We have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move."
Some conservatives are now claiming that Bush's conservatism isn't about "big government" so much as "strong government." Others are complaining — or cheering — that conservatism is flying under the flag of religion more than liberty.

But most are simply suspending needed conversations until after the election, because a Republican victory at the polls and/or an American victory in the war on terror take precedence. It's an understandable impulse. I just hope there's enough of the Reagan legacy to build on after the election.
20040724 "The Real Reasons Why An Iranian Bomb Matters." Perhaps a more accurate title would replace "Real" with "Realist." The reasons in this article are the floor, not the ceiling, for reasons to be concerned. I believe one thing that is being overlooked in this article is the significance of Iranian efforts to sabotage us in Iraq. If this sort of stuff gets worse, we might not be to appropriately respond to a nuclear Iran. Recall that in the Korean war, we didn't attack China directly for fear of provoking World War III. During the Cuban missile crisis, we didn't invade Cuba for the same reason.

20040723 Phillip Carter argues that our army is quite possibly the best it has ever been because of Iraq. He notes that "the stresses of war--and in particular the aftermath of defeat or failure--have historically spurred the most profound and lasting revolutions in military affairs," and then goes on to give many examples of how the US Army has been forced to implement many overdue reforms. Combining this with noting the benefit of having so many combat veterans, he paints quite a bright picture. He also notes that, "Despite dire predictions about recruiting and retention, the Army Reserve has largely met both sets of targets since 2001, even with the extremely high operational tempo."

However great a fighting force the army has become, Carter still thinks, "Even when our commitment in Iraq ends, it will be several years before our forces have recovered enough to take on a military venture of similar size." I suspect it will take popular opinion even longer to recover.

20040723 Interesting. Perhaps welfare reform has lowered the natural rate of unemployment, explaining why wage growth has been lower than expected.

20040716 Eugene Volokh defends the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, and he doubts the Supreme Court will overturn it. The implication is that the FMA is not needed to protect states' rights. I hope he's right, and I'd give him, say, 50-50 odds of being correct.

I think the Right has made a mistake in investing so much effort in the FMA, especially given its recent procedural squashing in the Senate. Federalism is the route most likely to succeed, not to mention the route most truthful to nation's governing traditions. As I've said before, the amendment we should be trying to pass is one that makes the clear that the Tenth Amendment still applies, that states can decide matters like gay marriage for themselves. The states' rights argument is by far the one we're most likely to win on the national level. Consider that right now, if you ask most Democrat politicians about gay marriage, they'll say it's up to each state to decide, even if they're only saying this so as to dodge the question.

I'd propose a amendment text something like this: "The power of intrastate regulation of marriage and children, including unborn children, exclusively belongs to the States." (This is just a first draft, and could surely use the critical eyes of some legal scholars.) All at once, such an amendment would take some the most divisive social issues off the national table. Right now, social activists fight their biggest battles in the Senate over federal court appointments and the occasional constitutional amendment. Moving these battles back to state legislatures and ballot initiatives would be more democratic. Also, it would be more accommodating of our divided society, as there would doubtless be pro-life states, pro-choice states, states with civil unions, states without them, states with gay marriage, such that if you lose on election night, you'll still be able to vote with your feet.

20040716 House Votes to Block Aid for Saudi Arabia. "The vote was a stinging defeat for the Bush Administration which had strongly opposed the measure saying it would "severely undermine" counterterrorism cooperation with Saudi Arabia and U.S. efforts for peace in the Middle East." Oh, boo hoo. This provides an opportunity to play good cop, bad cop. Ever since the Shah fell, dictators from Pakistan to Egypt to Saudi Arabia have been implicitly holding the threat of Islamic fundamentalists and the "angry Arab street" over our heads, dissuading us from pushing too hard for reform. Why shouldn't Bush tell Prince Abdullah that he'd "love to help, but you're country's just so unpopular among Americans; can't you show me some meaningful reform that I can use to convince Congress that we're on the same team?"

20040714 Latino Parents Decry Bilingual Programs.
ON a sultry night in late June, when the school term was nearly over, two dozen parents gathered in a church basement in Brooklyn to talk about what a waste the year had been. Immigrants from Mexico and the Dominican Republic, raising their children in the battered neighborhood of Bushwick, they were the people bilingual education supposedly serves. Instead, one after the other, they condemned a system that consigned their children to a linguistic ghetto, cut off from the United States of integration and upward mobility.
Listening to this litany, I experienced the sensation that Yogi Berra memorably called "déjà vu all over again." Five years earlier, in the rectory of another church only a few blocks away, another group of immigrant parents voiced the identical complaints about bilingual education - that the public schools shunted Latino children into it even if those pupils had been born in the United States and previously educated in English, and that once the child was in the bilingual track it was almost impossible to get out. An association of Bushwick parents, virtually all of them Hispanic immigrants, had gone as far as suing in State Supreme Court in a futile attempt to reform the bilingual program in local schools.
Parent after parent in the church basement last month remembered receiving, and then naively signing, a letter from school that apparently constituted their agreement to having a child put into bilingual classes. The letter, recalled these Spanish-speaking parents, was written only in English.
One of the more egregious examples of a lousy public school bureaucracy and dissatisfied parents without recourse. If this doesn't scream "vouchers," then I don't know what does.

20040714 The Weekly Standard has an article by a guy who was in the CIA in the 80s. He fears the CIA's real problem, a system that is very inefficient at getting good human intelligence, will not be fixed, even with all the current heat on the CIA for its misperception of Iraq. The systemic problem he refers to goes back even before the 80s. Some excerpts:
NOW, as in the days of Iran-contra, the CIA is front-page news. Odds are Tenet and his Agency will get hammered for all the wrong reasons.
When you stack up the Agency's assessment of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq during the Clinton administration and under Bush, the continuity of Tenet's positions is compelling. It is most unlikely that either he or politically ambitious CIA managers below him ginned up intelligence on Saddam Hussein's WMD programs.
Historians will probably view CIA reporting on the Iraq WMD threat as no less responsible than Agency analysis of the WMD threat from the former Soviet Union.
It is also absolutely true that George Tenet's CIA failed to penetrate Saddam Hussein's inner circle.... But it is also true that the CIA failed to penetrate Moscow's inner circle in the Cold War and that the great agents we did have (the most valuable were probably scientists) were all volunteers.... one simply cannot judge the caliber of a Western espionage service by its ability to penetrate the power circles of totalitarian regimes. The difficulties are just overwhelming.

One can, however, grade intelligence services on whether they have established operational methods that would maximize the chances of success against less demanding targets--for example, against Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda, which is by definition an ecumenical organization constantly searching for holy-warrior recruits. It is by this standard that George Tenet failed and the CIA will continue to fail, assuming it maintains its current practices.
The abysmal espionage apparatus that William Casey presided over was decades in the making. It was in great part structurally foreordained: Not only the promotion system but also the decision to deploy the vast majority of case officers overseas under official cover--posing as U.S. diplomats, military officers, and so on--set in motion a counterproductive psychology and methods of operation that still dominate the CIA today. (emphasis mine)
What needs to be done?
The entire system for finding, training, and deploying overseas case officers of this type needs to be completely overhauled. The "farm," the legendary training ground for case officers in the woody swamps of Virginia, ought to be abandoned. It has never had much relevance to the practice of espionage overseas. It is a symbol of the Agency's lack of seriousness. This new cadre needs to be a breed apart. Their operational half-life in the field might be at most ten years. It is hard to imagine them married and with kids. It is also hard to imagine their coming into being unless these jihadist moles are well paid. A starting salary of a quarter of a million dollars a year would be reasonable. Outsiders will know such a change is afoot when there are rumors of case officers' regularly dying abroad.
20040714 National Review has an interesting article on the origins of the vice-presidency. In every election through 1800, the electors each cast two ballots for the presidency, with each elector forced to choose candidates from two different states. The whole point of the vice-presidency was to discourage electors from the strategy of casting one vote for their first choice and throwing away their second vote on a fringe candidate so as not to help their second choice defeat their first choice.

20040712 Brink Lindsey has an excellent Reason article titled "10 Truths About Trade," but each truth is backed up by many facts, so "100 Truths About Trade" might be more accurate. Do read!

20040711 Remember that uranium in Niger?

20040710 Daniel Drezner on free trade: the good news and the bad news.

20040710 Some places are more than ready for democracy; some places have a ways to go yet.

20040709 The Washington Post has an informative piece on the 511 report released today by the Senate Intelligence committee. In short, the CIA got it wrong on the Iraqi WMDs.
In accusing the CIA and its top leaders of engaging in a "group think dynamic," the committee said analysts and senior policymakers never questioned their long-held assumption that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. In addition, the committee reported, the CIA had no undercover agents in Iraq since 1998 to help gather reliable information and failed to tell policymakers of "the uncertainties of both the reliability of some key sources and of intelligence judgments."
"The debate over many aspects of the U.S. liberation of Iraq will likely continue for decades," said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the chairman of the committee. "But one fact is now clear: before the war, the U.S. intelligence community told the president, as well as the Congress and the public, that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and, if left unchecked, would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Today we know these assessments were wrong."
And, of course, there is the partisan questioning of the administration:
While the committee's nine Republicans and eight Democrats voted unanimously to release the report, they expressed some differences about whether the Bush administration exerted undue political pressure on the intelligence community to provide assessments that supported a decision to go to war in Iraq. And Democrats lamented that a second phase of the committee's investigation -- into how the administration used the intelligence it received -- will not be completed until well after the November elections.
I believe it's prudent and important to make sure the intelligence was used wisely; what angers in the questioning of motives by the more, er, outspoken Leftists. I remember the days when the news was saturated with all matters Clinton and Lewinisky and Starr. One day, seemingly out of the blue, Clinton announces that he has just launched cruise missiles against a chemical weapons factory in Sudan and a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. Wag the Dog was on the tip of everyone's tongue, but at least for the first few days, not even Rush Limbaugh was willing to question the President's motives. As time went by, Limbaugh and other did question motives, and it bothered me. To say the president used the lethal force of our awesome military for devious reasons is to say he has blood on his hands. That's not a charge to lob like another political talking point. You may call me naive, but until proven otherwise, I assume my government goes to war in good faith.

20040709 Border skirmishes, kidnapping British sailors, intelligence operatives planting bombs (see here about that last one)- what is Iran up to in Iraq? Whatever their plans are, at least we're taking the threat somewhat seriously, even if the British are not:
America's military commander in Iraq ordered British troops to prepare a full-scale ground offensive against Iranian forces that had crossed the border and grabbed disputed territory, a senior officer has disclosed. An attack would almost certainly have provoked open conflict with Iran. But the British chose instead to resolve the matter through diplomatic channels.
Update: Mark Steyn is blasting Blair for the pusillanimous British response to the kidnappings.

20040708 Fiscal discipline is dormant. It will wake up in 2006 at the earliest. Everyone has long since given up hope with Bush, and those who hope in Kerry are fools:
An omnibus health insurance bill would be the first legislation sent to Congress in a Kerry presidency, he says. But while the centrist Kerry still advocates shrinking the budget deficit, a bolder Kerry, less noticeable so far in the campaign rhetoric, adds that if the deficit threatens to rise rather than fall, well, so be it - he'll go ahead with his health plan anyway.

"Health care is sacrosanct," Mr. Kerry said in a telephone interview, offering the most explicit commitment to date to a program that he estimates would cost $650 billion. That is an amount greater than the cost of all his other economic proposals combined.

"Listen," he said, "if worse comes to worst, you make adjustments accordingly in other priorities."

And not in health care? Mr. Kerry says that he will not have to face that choice, and that in his overall economic plan there is leeway for deficit reduction and expanded, subsidized health insurance. But if a choice has to be made, deficit reduction will have less priority. "Health care is too important," he said.
That leaves Congress. I won't waste words considering the Democrats. As for the Republicans, I expect there will a backlash against their love for big-government, but I doubt that it will be big enough to tip the balance.

I think the virtue to be called upon now is perseverance. After all, Milton Friedman had to wait until he was an old man to see any significant vindication of his ideas. As for pragmatic concerns like "what should we do in the meantime?": I believe the most likely path to success is through the Republican primaries. There are still a lot of Republican representatives and senators that believe in smaller government ( at least 88 in the House), and it wasn't so long ago that they controlled Congress and were fighting tooth and nail against Clinton for spending cuts. The Club For Growth has pushed it weight around in congressional primaries (as well as general elections) already, and they are bragging that "Contrary to the RINOs, ALL of the legislators who were elected with the Club's support voted YES [for the Spending Control Act on June 25th]." I think they've got the right idea, and I'm putting my money where my mouth is: I've just become a member and donated.

20040708 Some good news about Darfur:
The AU, a pan-continental body, is to send a 300-strong protection force to Darfur to support 60 AU monitors who began work last month.

But the Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, said the force would not now limit itself to the protection of the monitors and saw its role as also protecting civilians.

The Sudanese government said the force had to stick rigidly to its remit of protecting the monitors, and protection of civilians remained a matter for the Sudanese government alone.
It also notes that Britain is threatening an arms embargo while Colin Powell is cryptically threatening "further measures." Meanwhile, France opposes sanctions.

20040706 The Voynich manuscript is a hoax. How this was discovered is an interesting mix of history and applied mathematics.

20040706 Despite all our setbacks, McCain still believes we were right to Invade Iraq. William F. Buckley does not. I feel very strange siding with McCain against Buckley.

20040706 The pithy case for sanctions against Iran.

20040706 Gregg Easterbrook is bashing Hollywood's latest take on King Arthur for its unfaithfulness to history. What he says is true, but I'd argue that we shouldn't be too hard on the film, as our historical knowledge about Arthur is so limited that sticking to the facts isn't possible. The historical King Arthur was the subject of a high school research paper of mine. Among the things I learned is that we don't know much about Arthur other than that he ruled during the fall of the western Roman Empire and that he defended still-Roman Britain against a rising tide of barbarian invasions. The film got this part right, and for this I praise it. The film may be dreck, judging from the IMDB rating of the film, and so I'm in no rush to see it. However, I suspect I will see it eventually, as I have a soft-spot for historical films.

Whatever the quality of various movies about him, the history and legend of Arthur both still appeals to me. In my paper I quoted Winston churchill on Arthur, and I'd like to repeat the quote here:
If we could see exactly what happened we should find ourselves in the presence of a theme as well founded, as inspired, and as inalienable from the inheritance of mankind as the Odyssey or the Old Testament It is all true, or it ought to be; and more and better besides. And wherever men are fighting against barbarism, tyranny, and massacre, for freedom, law and honour, let them remember that the fame of their deeds, even though they themselves be exterminated, may perhaps be celebrated as long as the world rolls round. Let us then declare that King Arthur and his noble Knights, guarding the Sacred Flame of Christianity and the theme of world order, sustained by valour, physical strength, and good horses and amour, slaughtered innumerable hosts of foul barbarians and set decent folk an example for all time.
20040706 An interesting problem that never occurred to me before:
Some secrets shouldn’t be taken to the grave—such as computer passwords needed to access bank accounts, e-mail, or hard drives. Families and employers often have to scramble to find personal and professional passwords after a death. If passwords for critical computer files or financial records are lost, the execution of wills and final requests can sometimes be delayed.

“It’s becoming a very common occurrence,” John E. Kuslich, a professional password cracker, told the Dallas Morning News. “I’ve had families of people who have committed suicide, for example, and they’ll call me and say all these files are encrypted and they want to get into them. In those cases, especially, people call back and are so thankful for what they were able to read. It’s really something else.”
So how does one keep a secret while alive but ensure the secret passes on to others after death? This is trickier than just delaying the publishing of a secret for a fixed time period, for only God knows the number of our days. I can't think of any way to do it without a trusted third party. A poor-man's solution would be a password list in a safe deposit box.

20040706 After thinking for a while about the three big detainee decisions by SCOTUS, I have to agree with Scalia on all three counts. For Hamdi & Padilla, it's I think it's pretty clear-cut:

"The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it." -Constitution

"Absent suspension of the writ, a citizen held where the courts are open is entitled either to criminal trial or to a judicial decree requiring his release." -Scalia

We aren't facing invasion or rebellion. And in any event, Congress has not suspended habeas corpus.

Now, Hamdi and Padilla are citizens being incarcerated in the United States, in our court's jurisdiction. With Rasul, this is not the case. Thus things are not so simple. As Scalia put it,
The Court today holds that the habeas statute, 28 U. S. C. §2241, extends to aliens detained by the United States military overseas, outside the sovereign borders of the United States and beyond the territorial jurisdictions of all its courts. This is not only a novel holding; it contra-dicts a half-century-old precedent on which the military undoubtedly relied, Johnson v. Eisentrager, 339 U. S. 763 (1950). The Court’s contention that Eisentrager was somehow negated by Braden v. 30th Judicial Circuit Court of Ky., 410 U. S. 484 (1973)—a decision that dealt with a different issue and did not so much as mention Eisentrager—is implausible in the extreme. This is an irresponsible overturning of settled law in a matter of extreme importance to our forces currently in the field. I would leave it to Congress to change §2241, and dissent from the Court’s unprecedented holding.

As we have repeatedly said: “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree....
An interesting thing about these cases is the ways the justices were split. In Hamdi, Scalia's dissent was actually more in favor of Hamdi than the plurality opinion, which only required Hamdi be given some form of due process, not the full habeas corpus. Guess who joined in Scalia's dissent? Stevens - not what you'd expect if you were thinking in terms of the usual left-right political spectrum. In Rasul, Scalia's dissent was less-surprisingly joined by Rehnquist and Thomas.

For more extensive commentary on these decisions, the best place to go is of course the Volokh Conspiracy.

20040706 Disgusting:
On June 25, by an astonishing vote of 326 to 88, the GOP-controlled body rejected the Family Budget Protection Act, which would have removed the bias toward greater spending inherent in the current Congressional budget process. Even among Republicans, the bill lost 131 to 88. The Members also nixed the Spending Control Act, a less ambitious bill that Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle championed to impose spending caps, by a vote of 248 to 146.

Most of the credit for this repudiation of GOP principle belongs to the so-called College of Cardinals, the chairmen of the 13 Appropriations subcommittees and protectors of sacred pork, who threatened their fellow Republicans with legislative excommunication if they voted for the reforms sponsored by some very brave GOP backbenchers. Specifically, they vowed to zero out all pork projects for their districts.
The willingness of these porkophilic Republicans to go on the record like this demonstrates total contempt for their grassroots. Mark my words, this will come back to bite them in the 2006 primaries. The fratricide will be especially intense if Bush loses.

20040703 Lee Smith demonstrates that the mainstream Western media is passing along the obviously false claims (as in easily falsifiable with net connection) that the Qur'an doesn't mention beheadings. I wonder how else they're being duped. As Smith warns,
Since Islamists have typically understood Western writers and researchers to be in league with the enemy, it is logical to assume that Islamists will generally not cooperate with them unless it is to their own advantage. In fact, Islamists and others will often use Western journalists and academics to carry their message.
I think at least a partial antidote to this sort of thing is resources like MEMRI, which provide translations of what folks in the Middle East here from their own media in their own language. It needn't tell us the truth, but it allows us to spot spokespeople that say one thing in Arabic and another in English.

20040628National Journal has an in-depth article on Bush's record as commander-in-chief. There is praise for the Rumsfield's transformation, and hints that Rumsfeld hasn't gone far enough! Of course there is also concern about the unprecedented operating tempo at which Bush's foreign policy has obligated the military to keep up. Something not so commonly discussed is that not only is the army's current manpower arrangement unsustainable, but so is the current budget arrangement:
Meanwhile, Bush has also inherited, and retained mostly unchanged, the Clinton-era plan for procuring new weapons, a plan that also counts on major long-term spending increases. Overall, by the same CBO figures, the Defense budget is on track to grow from $383 billion in fiscal 2004 to $439 billion in fiscal 2009 -- above the peak of either Vietnam or the Reagan buildup, in constant dollars. And CBO warns that its estimates do not include likely weapons overruns or the supplemental bills for funding the global war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

Thanks to Congress's generous supplementals, "the Department of Defense has not really been asked to absorb any of the costs" of Iraq, said CSBA's Kosiak. But historically, defense spending rises and falls in cycles, Kosiak warned, and "if we're not going to see budgets of $450-plus billion a year for the next decade, we're not going to be able to afford everything in the administration's plans."
I'd gladly support a $500 billion defense budget, but it's not politically feasible. The deficit has probably reached the ceiling of political acceptability (and certainly passed my personal ceiling), and I can't think of any sufficiently potent combination of spending cuts and tax increases that could actually get through Congress.

20040628 Niall Ferguson has a nice WSJ article arguing that the future holds a real possibility of a period of "apolarity" as he terms it, in which US power over the world recedes but nothing really takes it place. It is not a pleasant scenario. That's the thing aobut a hyperpower; You never miss it until it's gone.

20040627 More on Darfur:
The U.S. Agency for International Development estimated that at least 350,000 people will die of disease and malnutrition over the next nine months.
Read the rest.

20040625 So, what's been happening in Fallujah in the past few days? I keep reading about the hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his terrorists. We seem to be doing a lot from the air: "U.S. aircraft last week dropped leaflets on the city urging residents to turn in al-Zarqawi," and "airstrike after airstrike after airstrike. Question: why did we put ourselves in the position where we can't do much more than strike from the air? The Marines had our enemies in Falujah surrounded and were about to finish them off. Then we seized a cease-fire from the jaws of victory. As part of this cease-fire we handed the problem of Fallujah to the "Fallujah Brigade." Just as in Tora Bora, we sent in poor surrogates and they have failed miserably, with the insurgents still in control of Fallujah:
The travelers entered Fallujah first through a checkpoint operated by the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, a U.S.-trained paramilitary unit meant to add muscle to the American-led occupation. The men in black berets distractedly waved cars past, onto the city's main street.

Then it became apparent who was really in charge. A few yards in, wild-eyed young men in masks pulled cars over at will, searched them and demanded identification documents. No one could leave or enter without passing muster. Other groups of fighters in masks roamed side streets and alleys, brandishing rifles at all sorts of angles.
Combining the article of the last link with our resorts to airstrikes fully convinces me that Fallujah remains a haven for terrorists.

This is just one aspect of the woe from our lack of resolve in Fallujah. Let's look at other levels. First consider the humanitarian aspect. Although many residents of Fallujah escaped becoming collateral damage in a pitched battle in the Marines took control of the city, they did not escape tyranny:
A few weeks ago, masked insurgents, apparently religious Sunnis, paraded four men through town who had been caught selling beer and whiskey along the banks of the Euphrates. The men were shirtless, and their backs were bleeding. They had been savagely whipped for selling alcohol, which is legal in Iraq. There have also been reports of masked men running checkpoints in the city and enforcing a strict Islamic code in which dominoes, videos and Western-style haircuts are banned.
Next, consider what Fallujah has done to our credibility. We said we would find the killers of the four contractors and bring them to justice, which is kind of hard when the insurgents still control the city (see last link). From the same NYT article as the above quote, we learn that,
Mahmood Othman, a Kurdish politician who sat on the governing council, called Falluja ''another Taliban'' and complained that the deal the Marines made set a bad example. ''This could be a model for the rest of Iraq,'' Othman said. ''Whenever you want your own rule, you fight the Americans, and they'll back off.'' Othman pointed to Karbala and Najaf, two Shiite holy cities where Americans are contemplating granting some form of local control to the very militiamen they were just fighting. ''See,'' he said. ''More Fallujas.''
You'd think, given the perception of this administration as incredibly hawkish, that this sort of self-defeating halfheartedness would be only be heard of in recollections of administrations past.

Of course, what was done was done for a reason. Again quoting the NYT article:
An American military commander responded to that concern by saying that nobody should be complaining about Latif [leader of the Fallujah Brigade]. He was the best option they had, the commander said, short of invading the city and putting a marine on every street corner.
Granted, the alternative of victory would have been costly both in blood and publicity, but - and I strongly suspect this is because we gave our enemies such a haven - we still face a loss of blood and publicity in the form of more terror attacks from al-Zarqawi's network. Hopefully, as Iraqi security forces mature, they will properly deal with our common enemies. The new Iraqi prime minister has made a point of talking tough, but actions speak louder than words. We must wait and see.

20040625 I've been reading a steady trickle of articles about Sudan over the years, none of them flattering. First it was fighting in southern Sudan, and now Darfur, in which the battle appears to be more one-sided and possibly even more vicious:
Half a million people have been uprooted, with their villages burned to the ground, and 100,000 (the lucky ones) have taken refuge across the border in Chad. Ten thousand, and perhaps far more, have been murdered outright. Rape is ubiquitous; victims are often scarred or branded to make their shame permanent. Wells are poisoned to make sure the survivors will not survive long. When those uprooted are unable to plant crops in the rainy season, which has recently begun, starvation will threaten the region's entire population of 5 million. And this is not, as the Sudanese government insists, the work of mere rogue militias; government jets have been seen strafing villages in support of the marauders.
This is isn't even close to the first article I read about Darfur, but it's the straw that broke the camel's back. Stopping this atrocity is a cause worthy of Western military might. Sudan needs to be given an ultimatum. If threats don't work, then threats must be carried out, ideally with troops from countries that aren't militarily stretched thin in Iraq.

20040625 Nuclear blackmail update:
North Korea wants 2,000 megawatts of power per year -- about one-fourth of its current total consumption -- in exchange for freezing work on its nuclear program, the Kyodo news agency reported, citing diplomatic sources, on the second day of talks in Beijing. In the United States, a megawatt can supply power to about 1,000 homes.

It was unclear whether U.S. officials would discuss such a request since the United States said North Korea must commit to dismantling the program, not just freezing development.

Japan and South Korea said they would consider giving North Korea fuel oil if it freezes its nuclear program as a step toward its eventual dismantling.
Ooh, what a great deal. They freeze their nuclear program - at least the parts of it we know about - until they think they can extract a bigger payment from their neighbors. I realized there are no good military options when it comes to North Korea, but wouldn't a standoff be better than paying tribute? North Korea's neighbors differ on this point, and I'm sure they have reasons; I just can't fathom what they are.

20040623 Well, what do you know, nuclear blackmail might just work after all. Even if we're not willing to buy off North Korea, apparently everyone else is:
Under the plan, South Korea and possibly other countries could begin providing heavy fuel oil to the North's battered economy immediately if the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, promises to dismantle the country's plutonium and uranium arms programs, U.S. officials said.
Once North Korea began to display and secure its materials and weapons -- and its claims have been verified by U.S. intelligence -- the United States and the other nations at the negotiations would issue provisional security assurances.
North Korea would be given only three months to halt and disclose all of its nuclear activities, including a secret uranium enrichment program that it says does not exist, and to begin securing and destroying nuclear materials under the supervision of international monitors, the officials said. Otherwise, these preliminary benefits would be halted.
Why are we going along with this? The NYT explains:
Mr. Bush's critics say he waited far too long to make his offer; Mr. Kerry argues it should have happened early in 2001, and others say right after the American invasion of Iraq. Hawks inside the administration believe it is still too early.

But China, Russia, South Korea and Japan said they were willing to provide North Korea with fuel oil, which the United States cut off a year and a half ago, forcing Mr. Bush's hand.
You all can probably guess what I think of this. What if North Korea doesn't meet the three-month deadline? This situation has occurred before in the 90s. Back then North Korea's neighbors were willing to give her another chance. I expect they will again.

20040622 Where are the WMDs? That nagging post-invasion question still nags me. Were they destroyed before the invasion? If so, then why didn't Saddam demonstrate this and keep his palaces? If they weren't destroyed before the invasion, were they sent to Syria? Did the looters get `them and sell them? Are they still in Iraq but we're just too incompetent to find them? All of the above? I can't seem to productively think about this issue. No theory I come up with satisfies. I am reduced to considering wholly unsatisfying possibilities, such as many weapons components simply being sold as scrap. I guess I will just have to file my questions in the back of my mind, along with other modern mysteries, like who was responsible for those anthrax attacks. 'Tis frustrating.

20040622 Speaking of Russia, another way we can discern the extent to which they are or are not our friends is how they deal with Belarus, a rarely-mentioned but troublesome little corner of the world:
Belarus's dictatorial president, Alexander Lukashenko, made Hussein such a key military, political and economic partner that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in testimony to Congress a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, singled out Belarus as the country most likely to accept Hussein if he were to flee Iraq.
Ominously, Belarus has not only reportedly sold weapons to six of the seven countries on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism but has also continued to defy Washington in doing so -- even with the war on terrorism in full swing. In the case of possible Belarusan involvement in weapons sales to Syria, Lukashenko has not even attempted to conceal his military assistance. "No matter how severely we are admonished for it," he has been quoted as saying, "we'll continue to help Syria militarily, because they have promised to help us in the same way."
Over the past eight years, two U.S. administrations have halfheartedly tried to convince Russia of the need to change the situation in Belarus. Russia, however, has chosen not to use its overwhelming leverage on Lukashenko to improve his dangerous behavior. As a result, the Belarusan regime has become more belligerent and increasingly dictatorial, and it now openly provides economic and military assistance to state sponsors of terrorism.
20040621 Interesting. The Russians thought Iraq was planning attacks against the United States, and warned us of this before the war. I hope more details about this come out, if only to satisfy my curiosity.

Daniel Drezner makes a good point about this, asking Putin,
why didn't the information change your mind about the war? You have intel saying that one sovereign state is planning to commit acts of aggression against another sovereign state in violation of the laws of war.

If that's not a justification for preventive action, what is?
20040616 Science confirms common sense (though they say common sense isn't that common):
Initiative states spend less than non-initiative states. Initiative states concentrate more of their spending at the local level. And initiative states raise a greater portion of their revenue through fees rather than through taxes. The subversion hypothesis, however, gets no support from Matsusaka's research. In each case, the initiative states move public policy in a direction that it consistent rather than inconsistent with popular will. Voters tend to want their state governments to spend less money, etc. Hence, instead of subverting the true popular will, the initiative process appears to be giving that popular will a means with which to influence public policy.
20040610 Surprise, surprise. Bush asks for troops in Iraq and France say no. Why did we even bother asking for NATO troops in Iraq? Surely we knew such an idea would be vetoed. Perhaps I don't understand the finer points of diplomacy, but it seems to me we are wasting our time and giving ourselves bad publicity by going around asking for help when we know the answer is "no." Realistically, almost all countries are already helping in Iraq to the extent they wish to, and we can't significantly change that extent. This is not a diplomatic failure, and it's not something that can be fixed by electing a new president. This is simply a manifestation of the divergent interests of nations.

20040608Crowds Force Extension of Reagan Viewing. Reading what normal people as well as all the columnists say about Reagan, I wish I had something eloquent to add. Unfortunately, I'm too young to add anything but second-hand praise. Let me just say that, putting on my historian's hat, I have no problem calling Reagan the best president since Lincoln.

20040525One thing Kerry and Bush agree on is the need to be involved in the U.N. Even if folks within the Administration like Cheney don't want anything to do with this organization, Bush is staying the course, as he reminded us last night:
The fourth step in our plan is to enlist additional international support for Iraq's transition. At every stage, the United States has gone to the United Nations -- to confront Saddam Hussein, to promise serious consequences for his actions, and to begin Iraqi reconstruction. Today, the United States and Great Britain presented a new resolution in the Security Council to help move Iraq toward self-government. I've directed Secretary Powell to work with fellow members of the Council to endorse the timetable the Iraqis have adopted, to express international support for Iraq's interim government, to reaffirm the world's security commitment to the Iraqi people, and to encourage other U.N. members to join in the effort. Despite past disagreements, most nations have indicated strong support for the success of a free Iraq. And I'm confident they will share in the responsibility of assuring that success.
I think Bush and Kerry are both far too patient with the U.N. I thought Bush was wasting his time going to the U.N. a second time before invading Iraq, and I really hope to think he only did it to help Blair politically. Jed Babin now points out the folly of our newest dance with the U.N.
President Bush is — again — submitting to wishful thinking by making his plan for Iraq subject to the goodwill of the U.N. The proposed Security Council resolution introduced Monday will achieve the same success as the previous handful: none at all, and for the same reasons the others have failed.

First, the new resolution proposes that the Iraqi Development Fund — the follow-in scam to the U.N. Oil-for-Food swindle — be subjected to some level of control by the new Iraqi government, and not left solely to the U.N.

Second, the proposal also says that the "multinational force under unified (i.e., American) command" that remains in Iraq, "...shall have the authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance and security in Iraq including by preventing and deterring terrorism...." That language — the most important in the resolution — would allow us to deal with Iran and Syria from our strength in Iraq. Those words are a guarantee that the resolution will not pass in this form, if it passes at all. Relying on the U.N. is, as it has been since the 1991 Gulf War, a sucker bet. If — as is most likely — the U.N. resolution fails to pass in this form, Bush's plan will not have failed. But the perception will be that it did. And the panic will resume.
It's simple. The U.N., even if we restrict to the Security Council, has member states with interests very much opposed to ours. Thus, we will never succeed in this war entirely or even substantially under the U.N.'s blessing. Anytime we actually make an agreement with the U.N., I am deeply suspicious of what we have agreed to, given the states that comprise the U.N.

20040525Michael Ledeen, who is usually telling of the dangers from Iran with his "faster please" sense of urgency, has actually written a somewhat light-hearted column. He provides a bunch of quotes from senior Shiite clerics in Najaf denouncing Sadr, and then concludes with "The only thing they might have added is the impressive obesity of the man. I mean, how does one explain that a religious leader of the poor and downtrodden is one of the fattest guys in the Middle East? He's certainly not calorie challenged."

20040518Has it really been thirteen days since my last post? I've spent a lot more time on math relative to politics of late. I haven't even been following the news in much depth. Now I'm about to go to this logic conference. I've got a few ideas for meaty posts, but they will have to wait until I get back. Until then, let me tersely link to a few items, most of which I've been meaning to blog for a while, but never got around to doing so.

First is Steven Den Beste's "Essential Library," which mirrors more than a few good essays by various folks about foreign policy, all of them relevant to our current conflict. If I were to have an "essential library" of my own, I'd certainly include The Jacksonian Tradition, by Walter Russell Mead, and Al Qaeda's Fantasy Ideology, by Lee Harris (in that order of importance). So, at the very least, read these two essays.

Second, I would like to note my agreement with the WSJ that the thwarted poison gas attack in Jordan was grossly underreported.

On a less serious note, feast your eyes on this county-by-county map of how various folks in the U.S. mispronounce "soda." (My prejudice towards soda comes from my father, who grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.) Also - surprise, surprise - The Day After Tomorrow has nothing to do with science.

20040505 Robert Kagan in the Washington Post:
That is what President Bush has been saying all along. But Bush himself is the great mystery in this mounting debacle. His commitment to stay the course in Iraq seems utterly genuine. Yet he continues to tolerate policymakers, military advisers and a dysfunctional policymaking apparatus that are making the achievement of his goals less and less likely.
National Review has recently had a few articles strongly denouncing the State Dept's Iraq occupation policies. I'm not sure the alternative occupation envisioned by Pentagon would have worked any better; I suspect it would have lead to another Afghanistan, essentially run by local warlords. But there is no doubt the State Dept. has made lots of mistakes that they haven't been punished for. Likewise, after 9-11, heads did not roll at the CIA and FBI. They should have. Bush takes personal loyalty too far. As this article by Jacob Levy argues more thoroughly, our government officials must be accountable for their failures.

Another thing about Bush which is a mixed blessing is his focus on a short list of goals. He may float lots of ideas (say, immigration reform, going to Mars, social security reform, etc.), but most of these do not receive any further investment of political captial. Bush currently seems to have two main goals: success in Iraq and keeping the tax cuts. Before 9-11, education reform was a main goal, and he did pass a major bill. After 9-11 and for a lot of 2002, Afghanistan was a main goal. Unfortunately, Medicare prescription drug coverage was also a main goal. When Bush has made something a main goal, he has thus far met that goal (we don't know yet how things will turn out in Iraq). But for the lesser goals, policy drifts. The result is often a very unsatisfactory status quo. For example, Steven Den Beste notes that,
They [mid-East nations] may make a handful of token police raids on locals which are then claimed to be "militants", whether they actually were or not, as a way for them to try to relieve the diplomatic pressure. Implementation of token reforms is another kind of smokescreen.

This is where I think that the Bush administration has failed. In an SOTU speech, Bush famously (or notoriously) said to the leaders of the world, "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." But he no longer seems to be following through on that.
Other examples: Our immigration system has not been reformed, nor has Social Security. Also, we remain at an impasse with North Korea, yet we haven't even tried things like economic sanctions. If we succeed in Iraq, I will forgive Bush for the majority of his inaction on other problems, but I'd really like to know what Bush's major goals are for his second term. Are they really just success in Iraq and keeping the tax cuts? These are all I can discern from his election campaign thus far. At the very least, I demand entitlement reform and that we apply a whole lot more pressure on our Islamist foes outside Iraq.

Another good point from Kagan's article (you really should read the whole thing):
The truth is, if the goal is stability, that the alternatives are no easier to carry out and no less costly in money and lives than the present attempt to create some form of democracy in Iraq. The real alternative to the present course is not stability at all but to abandon Iraq to whatever horrible fate awaits it: chaos, civil war, brutal tyranny, terrorism or more likely a combination of all of these -- with all that entails for Iraqis, the Middle East and American interests.
There is no easy way out of Iraq. A lot of people don't want to face this. Some are grasping at straws like the U.N. and "allies" that wouldn't help us in Iraq before and realistically won't ever nontrivially help us in Iraq, no matter how nice we are to them. Such people have already given up. They want to cut our losses, e.g., Nixon's "peace with honer," which was the halfway house to our complete abandonment of South Vietnam in 1975. I'm willing to forgive a lot of Bush's faults on other issues because I don't believe he will give up in Iraq.

20040428 Okay, that last bit of physics blogging has whet my appetite. I simply must link to Steven Den Beste's speculations about space warships. If read through all that and want more, visit The Ministry of Minor Perfidy; there's no less than four posts of futuristic goodness (1 2 3 4). These speculations are all relatively grounded in that they don't consider things like energy shields, wormholes, and warp drives, or even fusion power or antimatter drives.

20040427 Michael Ledeen is doing what he always does: warning about Iran. This time he's pointing out evidence of a link between Sadr and Iran. See his writings here and here. Also see this post at the Belmont Club. Back in 2002, he saying that we should change the Iranian regime before overthrowing Saddam, which I would have agreed with had I thought it practical. And he still advocates regime in Iran, but (here's where the practicality comes in) not by force, but by giving money and vocal moral support to democrats within Iran. It sounds good to me, and we should do it, but who knows how long it will to take to succeed, or even if it will succeed? We should be under no illusions that some Iranians can overthrow their government without military help. Meanwhile, we have to deal not only with any Iranian meddling that might be occurring neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, but with the Iranian nuclear weapons program. If it's just a matter of taking out a few key facilities, then I vote for an Osirak redux. My second choice is economic sanctions, which, like nonviolent support of Iranian revolutionaries, have no guarantee of success.

20040427 Lee Smith has a very good article in Slate about Arab anti-Americanism.

20040427 Gregg Easterbrook is complaining about the cost of Gravity Probe B.
Well, maybe we don't hear enough about far-reaching implications for the nature of matter and structure of the universe, but is it really worth $700 million of taxpayers' money to gain an increment of abstract knowledge regarding minute distortions in space-time?
This a valid point, which I shall return to. Then Easterbrook wonders off into ignorance.
Einstein made his breakthroughs via thought experiments, using a chalkboard; the cost of deriving the two theories of relativity was extremely small, and that's appropriate, since the practical benefits of the theories are small.
Easterbrook should consider GPS-guided smart bombs, which allowed the U.S. military to avoid civilian casualties to an unprecedented degree in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. GPS would take a big hit in accuracy if we didn't know of relativity:
To get accuracies of order 10 m, light travel times with an accuracy of order 30 ns (nanoseconds) have to be measured. Special relativistic time dilatation (caused by the velocity) and gravitational redshift corrections in these satellites are of order 30000 ns per day.
Actually, according to this book that I used in a class a few years ago, it's 39000 ns per day. To observers on the ground, the GPS satellites' clock appear to gain 39000 ns each day. This correction has two parts. First, clocks at higher altitudes appear to run fast to observers at lower attitudes. For GPS, altitude difference leads to a 50000 ns daily disparity. However, the satellites are moving relative to us, and, according to special relativity, moving clocks appear to run slow. This reduces the daily disparity to 39000 ns.

Another big application of relativity comes from the relativistic Doppler effect, which police use to catch speeders and meteorologists use to detect rain and show us cute color-enhanced Doppler radar images on the nightly news. I will skip the countless applications of relativity to other parts of physics, as most of these are not "real-life" applications, and move on to the big enchilada, E=mc^2, which includes nuclear power and nuclear bombs among its applications.

Getting back to Easterbrook's valid point, Gravity Probe B will test a part of general relativity that will not provide any practical benefit to humanity for the foreseeable future. One might say Gravity Probe B is a purely aesthetic public good. Truth be told, if I were the appropriator of the funds, I would not spend so many taxpayer dollars on a purely aesthetic pursuit. (I want to privatize the national parks too.)

The other reason to fund Gravity Probe B is national prestige. I half-suspect that the reason theoretical science gets the public funding it does in American is less that the people think theoretical science is beautiful than that people want the United States to be the best at science. However, I don't agree with rationale for public funding either. I think we should just let private actors decide on their own how important prestige is to them. (I would have opposed the Apollo missions were I alive at the time.) Bottom line: things like Gravity Probe B should be privately funded.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that, starting this fall, I will receive funding from the National Science Foundation to do theoretical mathematics research that is even less likely than Gravity Probe B to produce practical benefits. And yes, were I the appropriator of the funds, I would not fund myself. I believe that theoreticians like myself should support ourselves by teaching or from funding from private foundations. But, just as I don't refuse to visit national parks that I think they should be privatized, I don't refuse government funding that I think should come from a private source. If a gift is to be given and the question is just "To whom?", then it doesn't make sense to refuse the gift just because one thinks it is imprudent to give the gift, for one's refusal will not prevent the giving.

20040423 Remember that Kerry quote from last week? It appears that the New York Times editors (obviously following my lead) also disapprove:
"Iraq," Mr. Bush said at his news conference last week, "Iraq will either be a peaceful democratic country or it will again be a source of violence, a haven for terrorists, and a threat to America and to the world."

Mr. Kerry now argues that there is a third option. But what would that be? "I can't tell you what it's going to be," he said to reporters covering his campaign. "That stability can take several forms." True; in the Middle East, there is the stability of Islamic dictatorship, the stability of military dictatorship and the stability of monarchical dictatorship. In Lebanon, there is the stability of permanent foreign occupation and de facto ethnic partition. None is in the interest of the United States; all have helped create the extremism and terrorism against which this nation is now at war.
I had to pinch myself to make sure, but yes, I agree with a paragraph from an NYT editorial.

Correction! (20040427) I don't know what sort of state my brain was in when I wrote this post. I forgot to include the link to the editorial, which is actually from the Washington Post. I also had originally truncated "'Iraq,' Mr. Bush said..." to just "Mr. Bush said...," but I assume everyone figured out what was intended, for no one complained.

20040418Heh. I suppose this was inevitable.

20040416 Remember Huntington's immigration article? At last, I've found some more statistics on the subject. The results are not favorable to Huntington. They rebut most of his claims. The author of the rebuttal, when he strays from the numbers, interestingly manages to say plenty of things I agree with and plenty of things I disagree with, too many things for me to list here. I would like to point out this, though:
Virtually every immigrant to America wants to remain as they are, most of them want their children and grandchildren to remain loyal to their language and culture, and many of them plan to return home someday. Very few - almost none before WWI and very few now - arrive with any particular loyalty to America or desire to integrate.
In that past, this lack of personal loyalty to America didn't make much difference. Third generation German monolingual Americans didn't have another country to be loyal to. Immigration in the 19th century was a once - or at most twice - in a lifetime experience for all but the super-rich. Even native born Mexican-Americans lived too far from the population centres of Mexico to feel strongly connected to the old country.

That is something that has changed.

In the 21st century, moving to the other side of the world doesn't even mean having to miss your favourite soap opera. The Internet will bring you your hometown paper in real time, no matter where you live. Satellite TV keeps you as well informed in the new country as you were in the old. And, even a quite low income can purchase the airfare for an annual pilgrimage to take the kids to see the grandparents. The numbers and concentrations of Mexican immigrants is not new. Their proximity to Mexico isn't even terribly important. What is new is that immigrants need no longer be completely cut-off from their old country.
I think there's something to this. A bigger challenge than Huntington's "Hispanic Challenge?"

20040416Is this man insane? Kerry says "I have always said from day one that the goal here . . . is a stable Iraq, not whether or not that's a full democracy." Has it occurred to this man that he might actually become President in January 2005? Even were Kerry right to give up on Iraqi democracy, by saying so, he makes clear to people like Sadr that, depending on what happens here in November, they can prevent Iraqi democracy by causing sufficient instability. How would Kerry deal the next Sadr? Would he install him as a friendly dictator? Given what he's said already, Kerry would be a very weak bargaining position in such a scenario.

All of this adds up to another reason to stick to the June 30th sovereignty transfer date, and to hold elections as soon as possible: there simply is no guarantee that American support for Iraqi democrats will last much longer.

20040413In an NYT article about Dr. Khan claiming to have briefly inspected three nuclear devices on a visit to North Korea, I found this interesting aside:
White House officials declined to discuss the intelligence reports, saying through a spokesman that the subject was "too sensitive." But Vice President Dick Cheney was briefed on Dr. Khan's assertions before he left for Asia over the weekend, and he is expected to cite the intelligence to China's leaders on Tuesday to press the point that talks over disarming North Korea are going too slowly, administration officials said. They expect him to argue that the Bush administration is losing patience and may seek stronger action, including sanctions.
Maybe I'm just grasping at straws, but I'd like to think that someday we're going to do something about North Korea beyond verbal criticism. It's been way too long already, and, as is becoming ever clearer, we won't be able to wait until we're less tied down in Iraq in order to make military threats more credible, for we're going to be tied down in Iraq for a long time.

Whatever our North Korea policy, we should modify the federal budget to accommodate a larger standing army. The peace dividend has become a war deficit.

20040412The current issue of Policy Review has an insightful article about multilaterialism since the Cold War. Yes, the lesser powers have ganged up on the hegemon; it's just that they haven't using military means to oppose us. Moreover, this all started at least a decade ago.
As the hegemonic stability theorists also would have predicted, the Bush I and early Clinton policies reflected a tendency to enlist multilateralism in the service of unipolarity.
Not surprisingly, beginning gradually in the early 1990s and gathering strength during Clinton’s second term, an increasing number of international actors began to resist American hegemonic multilateralism, less by outright rejection of U.S. initiatives than by assertive counteractions, the eventual effect of which was to deprive Washington of the multilateralist high ground and place it on the unilateralist defensive.
The most triumphalist phase of U.S. policy in the 1990s thus rather awkwardly coincided with the strengthening of external and especially European determination to use multilateral agreements to check U.S. power.
If you're not sure whether you want to read the whole article: the author's thesis is that multilateralism is a tool used by both stronger and weaker powers, and that the axes of multipolarity and multilateralism are orthogonal properties of the international affairs--great stuff for all you policy nerds and Machiavellis out there.

20040411"Medicare will soon publish detailed information comparing the prices of most prescription drugs." Excellent. I'm still displeased (it's one of those half-a-trillion-dollars-over-a-decade displeasures) with this administration's Medicare policy, but I must give credit when credit is due.

20040411Econopundit continues to destroy my faith in econometrics, or at least the common usage of it. This time he's arguing we can't properly compare pre-2000 and post-2000 unemployment rates because of this discontinuity: "They [the BLS] introduced the Census 2000 population controls (which affect data back to 2000 and cause a break in the data in January 2000)."

20040410Ooh. A 2004 federal government budget simulator. Care to balance the budget? I tried, and it came down to cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits (by a fifth), significantly raising taxes, or devolving (cutting half federal funding in a single year) many federal programs to the states. (The last option would doubtless cause state tax increases.) No wonder neither presidential candidate is promising to do more than cut the deficit in half. Even a politically suicidal president would have to work with Congress, so I don't see how to really cut the deficit in the short term. There are reasons the biggest spending categories got so big.

All I can really say is "stop digging." We can't instantly fix S.S. & Medicare. But we can start long-term reform right now. Our primary goal must be the privatization of both of these programs and the removal of government disincentives to properly save for one's old age, to the point where government's (ideally state and local governments') role is just to help the truly destitute. The federal government is overseeing a massive intergenerational transfer of wealth that used to be done privately, i.e. children supporting their parents in their old age. Before the new deal, most old people who couldn't take care of themselves were cared for by their children, and the remainder relied on charity from the local government (poor houses) and/or from local private charitable groups (churches). To my mind, the pre-New-Deal system (combined with present-day technology, of course) would be superior to our current system in every respect.

If you'll permit me to speculate, I'd also claim that a return to the pre-New-Deal system would lead to a small increase in fertility, something that various European countries, which are literally dying out, could use. The idea is simple: just as welfare for poor single mothers and their children makes the state the father in many respects, so does government-financed care for the elderly makes the state the child in many respects, taking up yet another familial financial duty. One selfish reason for a person to have more children is to ensure he'll be cared for in his old age. When a person is guaranteed to have a child as wealthy and as generous as the state, then the financial incentive to have more children correspondingly diminishes.

20040409I think Victor Davis Hanson has the best reply to Senator Kennedy's claim that Iraq is Bush's Vietnam.
If there is any similarity between Vietnam and the current war, it is not 1963, when his late brother convinced us to commit troops to stop Communist aggression. A better year for comparison is 1974, when Kennedy and other senators began to cut off funding for air support promised to enforce the Paris peace accords, resulting in the collapse of South Vietnam, mass murder in Southeast Asia, and over a million boat people, with more still sent to the Communist reeducation camps.
At least Kennedy is in the minority today.

20040406This is not cool. If Hong Kong doesn't get real elections by 2008, then I'd argue it's Olympic-boycott-not-cool. China is reneging on another part of the 1984 treaty with Britain concerning the Hong Kong handover, cooking the frog by heating the pot slowly.
Hong Kong, which is much richer and more Westernized than the Chinese mainland, had been widely expected to become a local democracy — although under Beijing's oversight — by 2008. That is the earliest date permitted in the Basic Law, or miniconstitution, for free elections for all legislative seats and for the chief executive, the top official in the territory.

But after public demands for more democracy intensified in Hong Kong in the past few months, China asserted a prerogative to interpret two key clauses in the Basic Law that set out the process for introducing and implementing changes to the electoral system.

In the ruling issued by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress today, the central government decreed that it has the right to decide whether there is "a need" to introduce democratic changes.
20040406Michael Rubin brings troubling news from Iraq: Iranian money is pouring in, and you can guess where it's going to:
One February evening, a governor from a southern province asked to see me. We met after dark at a friend's house. After pleasantries and tea, he got down to business. "The Iranians are flooding the city and countryside with money," he said. "Last month, they sent a truckload of silk carpets across the border for the tribal sheikhs. Whomever they can't buy, they threaten." The following week, I headed south to investigate. A number of Iraqis said the Iranians had channeled money through the offices of the Dawa Party, an Islamist political party, led by Governing Council member Ibrahim Jafari. On separate occasions in Baghdad and the southern city of Nasiriya, I watched ordinary Iraqis line up for handouts of money and supplies at Dawa offices. The largess seems to be having an effect: Polls indicate that Jafari is Iraq's most popular politician, enjoying a favorable rating by more than 50% of the electorate.
Rubin faults the CPA is being strictly neutral between political parties. I'm not sure if we should be neutral or not. CPA funding of an Iraqi political party might take away that party's legitimacy in the eyes of many Iraqis. The ideal, albeit impractical, solution is covert funding of the parties we like. However, if you think the CPA should be funding liberal Iraqi parties, then don't just complain; take matters into your own hands. In America, we privately fund our political parties. Who is to say we can't privately fund Iraqi political parties? American donors could match the Iranians, and then some. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that all we need is publicity and a PayPal account. I looked around on the web for something like this and haven't found anything yet, but I can't be the first person to have thought of this. Somebody with the right connections needs to make this happen.

20040405Fair-weather federalists come in just about every political stripe, even my own. At least Ramesh Ponnuru is rightly standing up for federalism on the gay-marriage issue. I hope his view prevails among my fellow social conservatives. Even those who reject federalism must admit that a more federalist amendment is a lot more likely to actually pass.

20040405Why Your Gadgets Won't Crash the Plane. I'm awfully tempted to take a copy of this with me the next time I fly. Of course, for those who don't mind exaggerating things a little, you can always bring this along too.

20040405Michael Williams is having fun at the expense of those who think it is unethical to terraform Mars. But he's just going after the low-hanging fruit. The slightly more respectable argument against terraform Mars is utilitarian: "If there is life on Mars, then who knows what we might learn from it. We can't risk destroying it before we find it." I've heard this argument before: "We must protect the rainforests. There might some obscure plant there that contains the cure for cancer." The problem with the argument is that it the expected utility of native Martian bacteria and obscure rain forest flora is actually quite low, due to the low probability that we will find a valuable use for them. One might as well argue, "Don't show up on time for work today; stop by the convenience store to buy a lottery ticket. You could win millions." (OK, I guess I'm going after low-hanging fruit too.)

The only likely goods of a "pristine" Mars are aesthetic appeal to some and partial satiation of scientific curiosity for some. Of course, a (human) populated Mars would allow many more people to enjoy Martian scenery up close and allow much greater scientific investigation of Mars. Thus, I see no reason not to terraform Mars. I say we dump any loony ideas about a Moon base or human travel to Mars for at least a century, and start making Mars a place worth colonizing.

20040405There were many times when I doubted this, but it looks like the President will support free trade in his reelection campaign, even if he'd probably prefer not to talk about it. From the last Kerry campaign ad:
Announcer: While jobs are leaving our country in record numbers, George Bush says sending jobs overseas “makes sense” for America

Announcer: His top economic advisors say “moving American jobs to low cost countries” is a plus for the U.S.
I don't see how Bush could possibly go left enough on trade to neutralize the issue without repudiating the majority (sadly not the entirety) of his trade policy for the past three years. Bush may have thought steel tariffs were good for him in the months before the midterm elections, but now he's singing a different tune:
The 57-year-old Bush holds up the creation of U.S. jobs by companies from abroad as an example of the benefits of free trade. In a speech in Cleveland on March 10, he said 10 percent of Honda's worldwide workforce lives in Ohio. Honda has two vehicle-assembly plants in two Ohio towns.

"About 16,000 Ohioans work for Honda, with good, high-paying jobs, and that's not counting the people who work at 165 different Ohio companies that supply Honda with parts and material," Bush said. "When politicians in Washington attack trade for political reasons, they don't mention these workers, or the 6.4 million other Americans who draw their paychecks from foreign companies."
20040405This strikes me as a really good idea:
Inglewood voters go to the polls on Tuesday to decide whether to turn over 60 acres of barren concrete adjacent to the Hollywood Park racetrack to Wal-Mart to create a megastore and a collection of chain shops and restaurants.
Company officials say that Wal-Mart adopted this aggressive new tactic only after it became clear that Inglewood officials — backed by allies in organized labor, church groups and community organizations — would never approve the complex.
The only city official vocally supporting the project is the mayor, Roosevelt F. Dorn. He said the complex would bring more than 1,000 new permanent jobs, add $3 million to $5 million a year to the distressed city's tax base and provide a revenue stream to finance as much as $100 million in new bonds. "We're talking about a new police station, a new community and cultural center, a new park in District 4, upgrades for every park and recreation area in Inglewood," Mr. Dorn said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's a no-brainer."
Another fight against the abuse of zoning laws has been long overdue.

20040405Johnathan Rauch lays bear the hypocrisy with which we call Israel's assassination of Yassin "troubling" at the UN, while we haven't had trouble with (trying to) assassinate Al Qaeda leaders since 1998. An enduring critique of the Bush administration has been that it is not sufficiently diplomatic, but I've always thought they aren't sufficiently outspoken.

20040403Europe subsidizes it film industry, and the money goes to Hollywood.

20040403Partly Made Bomb Found Under a Rail Line in Spain. Remember what Churchill said after Munich.

20040401Did I mention Delaware has an awesome former governor?

20040401Steven Den Beste provides an interesting analysis of the most recent barbarity in Fallujah. He thinks the strategy behind it was to invite a counterproductive reprisal, rather than to weaken our morale. His idea is plausible, but at this point I can only take the position that there isn't enough data, and that discerning the motives of the twisted is often a dubious effort. Many other bloggers, such as Donald Sensing, demand as tough a reprisal as possible, whatever the motives of the enemy. I'm inclined to agree with this. If there's one place where people can't hate the Americans more, it's Fallujah.

20040401One good education post deserves another. I've been keeping track of Stanley Kurtz's muckraking of Title VI abuse for a while now. He's just written an article with more evidence to back up his allegations, as well a few bits of good news.

20040401Whoa. I didn't know high school drop-out rates were this bad. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that public schools have found ways to hide it. While I'm on the subject of education, I may as well link to this paper, which diagnoses another problem with our education system:
There are two main hypotheses for the decline in the aptitude of public school teachers since 1960: improved job opportunities for females in other occupations and the compression of teaching wages owing to unionization.... The evidence suggests that compression of teaching wages is responsible for about three-quarters of the decline in teacher aptitude.
20040401Jerry Taylor reminds us of all the damage OPEC has done. He also zings the environmentalists who keep demanding a "sustainable" (i.e. planned) energy economy:
Someday, of course, oil stocks will indeed begin to dwindle. When that might be, however, is unknowable because new technologies continue to emerge that make finding and producing oil cheaper than ever before.

Regardless, we don't need OPEC to manage the future. When depletion becomes a real problem, oil prices will rise of their own accord and economies will adjust because prices today reflect expectations about prices tomorrow.
20040401The bad news about Russia is overhyped, says this NBER paper:
Russia’s economic and political systems remain far from perfect. However, their defects are typical of countries at its level of economic development. Both in 1990 and 2003, Russia was a middle income country, with GDP per capita around $8,000 at purchasing power parity, a level comparable to that of Argentina in 1991 and Mexico in 1999.4 Countries in this income range have democracies that are rough around the edges, if they are democratic at all. Their governments suffer from corruption, and their press is almost never entirely free. Most also have high income inequality, concentrated corporate ownership, and turbulent macroeconomic performance. In all these regards, Russia is quite normal. Nor are the common flaws of middle income, capitalist democracies incompatible with further economic and political development-if they were, Western Europe and the US would never have left the 19th century.
This sounds about right to me. Of course, the biggest difference between Russia and, say Mexico, is several thousand nuclear warheads. Thus, holding Russia to a higher standard makes sense, so as we don't let this skew our perception of her.

The more important point in my mind is that Russia does not count as evidence for the case made by various rulers that their valves on political freedom must admit only trickles.