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Archive for May, 2005

An Election Delayed?

[ 0 ] May 17, 2005 |

An intriguing development in Canadian politics. With the Liberal government hanging by a thread, key Conservative Party founder and leadership runner-up Belinda Stronach has defected to the Liberals and will be joining Martin’s cabinet. (With bonus gossip implications!) This makes it likely that the Liberals will survive the non-confidence vote set for Thursday.

The additional significance of this is that, the fantasies of David Frum notwithstanding, there just aren’t a majority of votes for a small-c conservative party. The coalition trying to bring down the liberals is the same as the Mulroney coalition–conservative westerners and left-wing secessionist Quebecois–is, to state the obvious, not a stable governing coalition; it has little in common besides a shared interest in decentralizing federal power. A small Conservative minority government backed by the Bloc Quebecois, however, would be worse for the country than the Mulroney collation, in which Quebec nationalists were at least part of a national party. Stronach specifically citing Harper’s willingness to cut deals with the secessionists is an argument that will be used to devastating effect. The (genuinely awful) scandals of the Liberals may bring down Martin, and it could even lead to a temporary Conservative minority (although this is now less likely), but Stronach’s defection underlines the unlikelihood that the end Liberal domination of Canada is by no means imminent.

Religion as a Front

[ 0 ] May 17, 2005 |

Frequent commenter MJD recently noted that churches that engage direct partisan advocacy are acting illegally. Julia notes that some members of Congress (including the member of the district where the church that kicked out its Democratic members resides) are trying to end this exemption.

Because if history teaches us anything, it’s that nothing preserves the integrity of religious institutions like making them branches of the governing party. Get yer indulgences here!

Next on NYSC TV: Nickleback’s Loving Tribute to Glass Tiger

[ 0 ] May 17, 2005 |

I know that the music they play at the gym pretty much sucks by definition, but isn’t the Goo Goo Dolls covering Supertramp bad rather beyond the call of duty? And I was also shocked and appalled that they were playing Tal Bachman and Our Lady Peace. I can understand why Canadian broadcasters play that shit–they’re legally required to. What excuse do people have down here? Jeebus, the Ryan Adams mediocrity–whose title was used by a far better song by Love And Rockets many moons ago–sounded almost as good as Ryan Adams thinks it is by comparison.

Ah well, as I’m sure Aristotle would have said–when you forget your CD case, you deserve whatever you get.

Capital Ship Conservatives

[ 0 ] May 17, 2005 |

I think Matt and Praktike are missing the point regarding the sinking of an USN aircraft carrier in a conflict over Taiwan. I seriously doubt that the Chinese military leadership thinks that sinking the Kitty Hawk or the Nimitz will force the US to back down. Rather, they’re pursuing a deterrent effect. Naval commanders are among the most risk-averse of any military officers, and US admirals will be EXTREMELY reluctant to place a carrier in a position of danger. The Chinese point is less to sink a carrier than to develop capabilities that will push the carriers far away from the Taiwan theater of operations and thus reduce their effectiveness. It’s entirely reasonable for them to talk about the joys of carrier-sinking in this context.

Peasants with books=WWIII

[ 0 ] May 16, 2005 |

Just in case you didn’t see the link in the comments on Rob’s first Kurtz post below, the Kaplan piece in The Atlantic that (in part) inspired Kurtz’ latest bit of paranoid Huntingtonian fantasy (Am I the only one who feels like he really wants China to be a serious military threat? Does that make me paranoid, too?) is thoroughly and entertainingly demolished here by the indispensible praktike. Required reading. A taste:

Let me give you that sentence in full so it doesn’t sound like I’m making this up: “Pulsing with consumer and martial energy, and boasting a peasantry that, unlike others in history, is overwhelmingly literate, China constitutes the principal conventional threat to America’s liberal imperium.”

China’s peasants can read and write, so naturally they’re a huge component of China’s threat, because—as history so often shows—rural folk who can read and write tend to reject liberty and demand aggressive expansionistic wars at all cost. Crazy, but there you have it.

That covers the first two paragraphs of the piece, and all I can say is that America needs a better reason to go to war with China than Robert Kaplan’s obvious desire to cover that conflict from the trenches.

But this is what America—and the U.S. military—gets when we pretend that journalists are our best sources for grand strategy and national security thinking. Me, I see garbage in, garbage out.

Update: praktike isn’t the author here but rather the conduit through which I came to read it. The original is in Thomas Barnett’s newsletter, downloadable here.

Something Nice about Sam Huntington

[ 0 ] May 16, 2005 |

As you well know, I have always made an effort to be as fair-minded as possible toward those who make irredeemably poor judgments about politics and aesthetics. In this spirit, I would like to follow up my earlier contempt for Bloody Sam Huntington with the following, which is a passage from Soldier and the State, first published in 1957:

[Civilian control] thus becomes an instrumental slogan like “states’ rights” rather than an end in itself. Just as the banner of states’ rights is normally raised by economic groups which have more power at the state than at the national level in struggles with other groups which have more power in the national government, so the slogan of civilian control is utilized by groups which lack power over the military forces in struggles with other civilian groups which have such power.

Now, I think Sam is wrong. Civilian control does have an actual meaning, while “states’ rights” does not. However, it’s nice to see that he understood, even in 1957, that “states’ rights” as an ideology is garbage, an instrument for whatever faction, economic or no, that wishes to resist federal power. Credit where due; it’s something that Glenn Reynolds and the crew at the National Review are still grappling with.

Kurtz, Part II: More Guns, Who Cares about Butter!

[ 0 ] May 16, 2005 |

Frank McCloud: “I know what you want, Rocco.”
Johnny Rocco: “Yeah? What do I want?”
McCloud: “You want more.”
Rocco: “Yeah, that’s right. I want more.” – Key Largo

In order to re-fight the Crusades and expand them to the Far East, Stanley Kurtz recognizes that we need a larger military:

Yet with the growing challenges we face, an eventual expansion of our military is in the cards. Of course, with Democrats eager to use that issue as a scare tactic against the Republicans, it will take another terrorist strike–-or a sea-going confrontation with China’s navy–to get us a bigger military. But wether via an expanded volunteer force or a draft, our military is destined to grow.

On the one hand, I suppose old Stanley deserves some credit. Not many conservatives have recognized that the imperial project undertaken by the Bush administration exceeds the current military means of the United States. Stanley’s position is quite the improvement on those who believe that token forces supported by air power will easily topple Iran, North Korea, and even China.

As Matt points out, Stanely appears to lack any understanding of the current US political environment, as he seems to believe that increased military spending would be so unpopular that Democrats could use it as an electoral club against the Republicans. He also doesn’t give any sense of the value-trade offs associated with increased military spending, nor any real measure of how much military force the United States needs to be secure.

That Kurtz is reluctant to make a cost-benefit analysis of increased US military spending is unsurprising. Such an analysis would put both the wisdom of tax cuts and of the Iraq adventure into deep question. The first, by leading to enormous deficits, restricts the long-term ability of the United States to maintain a large military budget. The second represents an open-ended commitment that is now and will for the forseeable future remain the most important drain on US military resources. Any discussion of increased military spending, or, to be more specific, a more efficient allocation of military resources, has to consider these two questions, and neither make the Bush administration look good. Nevertheless, such an analysis is necessary. If we spend more on the military, we need to either cut back in other areas of spending or raise taxes. It’s unclear where cuts can be made in the current budget, so, in the absence of tax increases, we’re looking at borrowing the money. Who do we borrow the money from? China. In short, to fund a Cold War against China, we’re borrowing money from China. Moreover, the increasing size of the US debt, and the apparent lack of any interest in slowing down its growth, places a limit on just how much we can allocate to defense, a limit that becomes more onerous as time goes by.

Metternich would not be pleased.

Kurth also fails to give any account of how large the US military budget ought to be. US military predominance, now, is the greatest in the history of the modern state system. That the United States cannot use this power to as great an effect as, say, Great Britain in 1820 tells us that something has changed in the system, not that the United States is too weak. Nuclear weapons and nationalism mean that the glory days of an imperialistic foreign policy are either gone or prohibitively expensive. But, anyway, let’s entertain Stanley for a moment, and accept that the budget must grow. How large? How much should we spend? What do we need to be absolutely secure, to be certain of meeting all of our challenges?

The answer, of course, is that we cannot be absolutely secure. There is no amount that the United States can spend on defense that will eliminate all possible threats and all possible challenges. Indeed, increased military spending creates new challenges as often as it dispels them; imperial overstretch, massive debts, and anemic economic growth will eventually present more dire security challenges to the US than a Chinese carrier battle group. Moreover, increased military power begets balancing behavior as often or more often than it begets bandwagoning behavior, meaning that a new challenge will arise in the aftermath of every problem we “solve”.

This is not to say that we should cut, maintain, or increase our current levels of spending. Frankly, I think that our military dollar is spent in a dreadfully inefficient way, and that there is plenty of room to cut spending while still increasing US military power. To be even more frank, I think that some of the reforms of Rumsfeld and crew could be on the right track. My argument is that the responsibility for justifying increased military expenditures lies with those who call for them, and that there should be an assumption that less spending on defense is better than more spending, absent a clear threat. Moreover, in justifying a particular level of spending (and not just “more spending”), account must be taken of the costs that such a policy will incur.

Stanley isn’t trying to do any of that. He doesn’t grapple with the contradiction in the Republican coalition between tax cutters and imperialists, doesn’t justify any particular level of spending, and egregiously misreads American politics.

Kurtz, Part I: Huntington was Right!

[ 0 ] May 16, 2005 |

““There’s one thing I don’t understand. The thing that I don’t understand is every motherfucking word you’re saying.”- The Limey

Via Matt Yglesias, this post is worthy of a couple thorough debunkings. I’ll post more on the China military problem later, but let’s take a look at what Stanley has to offer, first.

Kaplan describes the coming competition with China as a second Cold War. Looking at the world today, you’ve got to say Samuel Huntington called it. For decades it’s going to be the West against Islamic terror on the one hand, and China on the other.

Anytime I see the phrase “Huntington called it,” I reach for my revolver. I don’t have one, of course, so I have to resort to my keyboard. Stanley, and presumably Robert Kaplan, would have us believe that we are on the cusp of a Cold War with China, and that the cause of this emerging Cold War is the divide between Confucian and Western culture that Huntington describes in The Clash of Civilizations. Let’s evaluate that for moment, shall we?

For this argument to be plausible, the cause of conflict must be cultural, and not either geopolitical or ideological. If a Cold War is emerging because of China’s expanding military and economic power, then Huntington is wrong; culture doesn’t matter a bit, only power does. Rather than a clash of civilizations, we have old-style realist politics. Indeed, although I haven’t yet read Kaplan’s article in the Atlantic on China, I think this is the argument he holds to. Similarly, if the emergent Cold War is primarily ideological, Huntington is again wrong; systems of governance do not hold to cultural lines, and if democracy vs. tyranny is the main factor, then culture doesn’t make a bit of difference. Indeed, Kurtz can’t manage to hold to one account of the world, and even manages to get Fukuyama and Huntington confused, a tremendous accomplishment for such a pair of simplistic thinkers. In short, for Huntington to apply there must be evidence of conflict based on cultural values, and Kurtz supplies NO evidence that this is the case.

The impending anti-western alliance between Islamic and Confucian cultures in Huntington has always puzzled me. A casual observer might think that the Christian West and the Islamic world have much more in common with each other than either have with the Confucian world. On the other hand, another casual observer might note that Western institutions of governance, from liberal democracy to Marxist dictatorship, have taken deep root in the Confucian world, an outcome which should be troubling to fans of Huntington. In any case, an evaluation of the actual policies maintained by the East and the West should prove confounding to such civilizational theories?

What do I mean? Hey, anyone remember what country tried, rather vigorously, to block US action in Iraq? If you say “China”, you’re wrong. Instead of China, the main foe of the United States was France, our old teammate in Western culture. I suppose that the Huntington-inclined Cornerites could suggest that the French are so overtaken by post-modernism that they have abandoned Western culture, but that hardly explains similar reactions on the part of the Russians, the Germans, and the overwhelming majority of people living in the rest of Western world. The Chinese took no position on Iraq, and the South Koreans and Japanese were supportive. The conflict over Iraq did not follow civilizational lines, and it certainly didn’t lead to the Confucian-Islamic alliance that Huntington expects.

So, instead of inter-civilizational conflict, we see intra-civilizational conflict, which, I will note, has been evident in the Western world for the last, oh, 2600 years. Instead of the Islamic and Confucian worlds lining up together against the West, we see what can only be described as the collusion of the major Confucian powers with the premier power of the West, against, oddly enough, the rest of the West. Call me a skeptic, but I’m not sure Huntington deserves any credit here.

Most importantly, perhaps, we don’t see China, the bugbear that the neo-cons have been worrying about since the 1990s, pursuing any kind of adversarial relationship with the United States. Since 9/11, China has been content to grant tacit support to the War on Terror while taking care of its own Islamic minorities and striking up good relations with South and Southeast Asia. When the time came for confrontation over Iraq, the Chinese demured. More about this later, but if a Cold War is in the offing, the Chinese don’t seem to know about it.

Wine and the Commerce Clause

[ 0 ] May 16, 2005 |

Granholm v. Heald, which the Supreme Court handed down today, has an interesting lineup: 5-4, with Kennedy/Ginsburg/Souter/Scalia/Breyer in the majority. (I wonder how often, if ever, a majority opinion has been composed of those 5 alone?) The question was whether states can ban the direct sale of wine from out-of-state vineyards while permitting it from in-state vineyards. Kennedy’s opinion, which struck down the law, seems quite clearly correct to me. Given that these laws are discriminatory protectionism directly related to the channels of interstate commerce, there should be a strong presumption that they’re unconstitutional. And Kennedy is correct that there’s no plausible police powers rationale that would overcome this presumption; if direct sales would lead to an increase in teenage alcoholism, this would seem to apply equally to in-state and out-of-state distribution. (And, of course, it’s not particularly plausible that teenagers looking to get drunk will be buying expensive craft wines over the internet.) My one caveat is that Thomas’ dissent relies heavily on a federal statute that he interprets as permitting states to pass such regulations. I’m not persuaded, but someone more familiar with the law may make a more convincing case. Until then, I think that given the presumptive unconstitutionality of such a state statute Congressional approval would have to be considerably more explicit.

The other reason to oppose the decision would be that more willingness to enforce the commerce clause is not in the long-term interests of progressives. This is possible, but I don’t see a slippery slope here. First of all, Lopez already opened the door; I don’t think an extra case matters very much. Secondly, there really isn’t any way that this case can be used to strike down, say, state labor or safety regulations, which generally don’t directly restrict the channels of interstate commerce, and which generally don’t (and shouldn’t) make distinctions between in-state and out-of-state employers doing business in the state. I think this decision is a good one, and don’t see it having any negative ancillary effects.

Bobo, John Tierney, and Thomas Friedman, only $50 a year!

[ 0 ] May 16, 2005 |

$50 that shall remain in my pocket. I’ll buy Krugman’s next book for less than that new.

Starting in September, access to the New York Times Op-Ed section and
some of its news columnists on NYTimes.com will only be available
through a fee of $49.95 a year. The service, known as TimesSelect,
will also allow access to The Times’ online archives, early access to
select articles on the site, and other features.

Baseball Challenge Standings, Week 6

[ 0 ] May 16, 2005 |

Dave Noon continues to dominate. Only Dave Watkins manages to keep the LGM crowd out of the three last slots in the standings.

1 Axis of Evel Knievel, Dave Noon 1748
2 Swinging At Space, Kirk Jepsen 1564
3 The Spot, David Watkins 1504
4 New Mexico Alterdestiny, Erik Loomis 1443
5 Discpline And Punish, Scott Lemieux 1441
6 Oregon Bearded Duck, Robert Farley 1278

It Gets Worse

[ 0 ] May 16, 2005 |

Via the Poor Man, Assrocket gets a running start, sprints, and crashes through the floor of human decency:

I really think that calling Newsweek’s blunder “the press’s Abu Ghraib” is unfair to the low-lifes who carried out the Abu Ghraib abuses. After all, they didn’’t even hurt anyone, let alone kill them.

In fact, it’s unfair to call them fraternity hi-jinks, because compared to his frat initiation Abu Ghraib was nothing. How do you think he got the nickname Hindrocket?

UPDATE: As the Raw Story notes, the conclusions of the Newsweek story are solid.

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