Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ford’s National Nightmare

The U.S. entered its dark period in Spring 1965. Confronted with the impending collapse of the South Vietnamese government at the hands of North Vietnam/Vietcong forces, the U.S. under President Johnson responded by sending American combat troops to carry on the fight. From that point on, life turned bleak in America. Events and the media drove Johnson from office three years later. Johnson’s successor Nixon was also a failed president; he got us out of Vietnam, but committed the Watergate-related crimes.

Both Johnson and Nixon wrongly played economic policy for short-term gain. Their economic decisions generated inflation, recession, or stagflation—a combination of both—for most every year from 1967 to 1983. In foreign affairs, we were driven from Vietnam in 1973, and South Vietnam and neutralist Cambodia collapsed in 1975. By mid-1979, President Carter was indicating a “national malaise,” not his administration, was responsible for America’s continuing economic and foreign problems. In late 1979, Iranians seized the American embassy in Tehran, and the subsequent hostage crisis, including Carter’s aborted effort to rescue the hostages, dominated the remaining days of his failed administration. It took Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s to pull us finally out of our national funk.

Gerald Ford was an accidental president in the midst of this bleak period. He was appointed Vice President in late 1973, after evidence of Spiro Agnew’s corruption forced the elected Vice President to resign. Nixon knew Ford, popular in Congress, would receive easy confirmation. Nixon also thought Ford’s well-known limitations, including his total lack of charisma, might cause Congress to hesitate before removing Nixon from office.

In his two and a half years as president, Ford brought the nation badly needed decency and calmness, symbolized by the good feelings surrounding 1976's Bicentennial celebration of American independance. But Ford did little to solve America’s economic and foreign problems—to end our real national nightmare. The November 1974 mid-term elections, three months after Ford took over, were a Republican disaster. Ford, though personally honest, made it worse for Republicans by tying himself to Watergate when he granted Nixon an unconditional pardon from Watergate crimes, an effort to dispose of Watergate that blew up in Ford's hands.

Ford committed another major blunder when in 1976, he denied to a national audience in America's first presidential debates since 1960 that Poland and Eastern Europe were under Soviet domination. His mistakes helped make Ford the third president in a row forced to leave office before reaching his constitutional limit.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

China 2007

Gordon G. Chang has a lengthy Commentary article on why trouble is brewing in China:

Every society changes from one day to the next. But the economic and social transformation in China, especially since the beginning of the reform era in December 1978, has been particularly startling. Mao regimented the Chinese people, oppressed them, clothed them in totalitarian garb, and denied them their individuality. Today, they may not be free, but they are assertive, dynamic, and sassy. A mall-shopping, Internet-connected, trend-crazy people, they are remaking their country at breakneck speed. Deprived for decades, they do not only want more, they want everything.

Undoubtedly, the Chinese leadership knows it’s riding a tiger. It stays upright by surging China forward economically, moving fast enough to keep a potentially-restive population in line. Everything about governing is easier, including moves toward freedom and democracy, when the economy grows. Lessons learned in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea may—actually, should—work for China.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Paul and Faith

Christianity is the world’s largest religion. Christians believe in the New Testament, the oldest part of which is letters Paul wrote to Greek-speaking Christian communities in the mid-1st century. Luke’s nativity story came decades later.

Paul had a clear idea of his faith, and he wrote clearly. In Paul’s time, Jesus Christ’s time, life for most was nasty, brutish, and short. Stoicism was one popular response to brutal lives. Stoics taught that people who committed themselves to matters beyond their control such as wealth, health, careers, or lovers were set up for having bad fortune ruin their well-being. Better for people to redirect their efforts toward things that cannot be taken away, such as one’s freedom to think whatever one wants, one’s honor, and one’s sense of duty.

Christianity is certainly about personal freedom, honor, and a sense of duty. But Christianity adds the hope of triumph over death. Christians believe Jesus died for our sins, and will return, in Paul’s words, to “rescue us from the wrath that is coming” (I Thess 1:10). Jesus died for us, asking that we believe in him. If we believe, we will have eternal life. In exchange for faith, we get more than the Stoics’ sense of well-being.

Paul understood believers want instruction in how to live in faith. Paul offered that help. Most powerfully, he taught us how to love. Yet Paul believed in justification by faith, not works. We don’t love, we don’t do good, in order to get to heaven. Rather, by believing in Christ, by embracing an innocent, itinerant rabbi who sacrificed his life on a wooden cross—for Jews like Paul, the most degrading way one could die—to atone for our sins, we gain a faith that makes us want to reciprocate by becoming loving, giving individuals.

The Christian world is an alternate world, one where the weak become strong, where the poor come first, and where giving is greater than receiving. It is, however, a faith that is very much of this world. Believers live in the here and now. Belief, love—they work both on earth and for eternity.

Today, we know much more about how the human mind works than people did in Paul’s time. Yet there is so much we still don’t know. That means we’re still asked to take the same “leap of faith” Paul challenged us to make 2000 years ago.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Marine Corps: Massacre Occurred at Haditha

I earlier recommended caution regarding what actually happened at Haditha. We now have official charges against Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich and seven other marines. Wuterich seems to have gone berserk after an IED killed one of his marines, reacting by killing twelve innocent people, including women and children, and inciting three others under his command to “shoot first and ask questions later.”

So the mainstream media was right about a crime, but probably shouldn’t have condemned the entire system as a result. Among other facts, the Marine Corps has charged four officers who weren’t even on the scene with dereliction of duty in connection with Haditha.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Oprah, Tiger, Barack, Beyoncé

Just so you know, I don’t think much of TIME.

The last time TIME picked an African-American Person of the Year, he was the chief symbol of the Negro race's drive for equality. Decades have passed since 1964, when TIME made the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. its Man of the Year.

In 2006, it’s no longer about being black. It’s about being dominant and incidentally black. For we surely live in a completely different world.

And is this world big enough to contain Beyoncé? OK, so “Dreamgirls’” Jennifer Hudson may have better pipes (she certainly got the better part and the better songs), but Beyoncé is unquestionably the “It” woman of 2007. It’s been coming on for years, and now it’s move aside Britney, sorry Christina, and bye-bye Madonna. You're all hardly "Irreplacable." Nobody is bigger than Beyoncé. Color? Being non-white in a non-white world hardly hurts. But with Beyoncé, it’s beyond color; it’s the overwhelming power of the total package. Beyoncé, at 25, is Entertainer of the Year. Worldwide.

And yet she’s fourth on our list. The top spot goes to Oprah, the single most powerful influence on Western culture today. How could Oprah not have been TIME’s Person of the Year years ago? Is she a competitor to TIME? Actually, I don’t think TIME is any longer in Oprah’s league. Really, in this era of money buying not happiness, but rather big hips, who speaks more directly to our needs than Oprah? If you ask American women who they most admire, Oprah is #1. Oprah—way, way, beyond being a successful black woman.

Not a surprise, Oprah’s power. And does anybody dominate any single sport with such grace, such intelligence, such articulateness as Tiger? Such an upper class, once lily-white activity. Because golf is an individual sport, person against the elements, because it is played everywhere, because normal sized people play it well into their 50’s and 60’s, golf has incredible appeal. And Tiger is golf, the symbol of golf’s worldwide growth, bigger than any golfer ever.

Barack, unlike the other three, is still mostly potential. But the job he seeks, President of the United States, is the world’s biggest. And look. No president has ever been a Harvard Law Review editor. Barack was not only an editor, he was President of the Law Review. Now, Barack is perfecting his skills at appealing to moderation, to consensus, to working together at a time when the country is crying for an end to the bitter, partisan divisiveness that has dominated American politics almost continuously since 1988, and maybe since 1966. Yes Barack is black. He’s white too. Bringing us together.

Oprah, Tiger, Barack, and Beyoncé. Four amazing Americans, four outstanding citizens of the emerging, 21st Century world.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Please, No Protectionists!

In an editorial, the San Diego Union expresses concerns about Barack Obama’s economic views:

With his opposition to many trade deals and his Wal-Mart bashing, Obama has tentatively allied himself with [protectionists], all the while depicting himself as a thoughtful centrist. But there is nothing thoughtful about ignoring the vast evidence that free trade and relatively unfettered capitalism have made America prosperous—or arguing that a company whose low prices help millions of families make ends meet and which has no trouble filling jobs should abandon its business model and become an adjunct welfare agency.

The two parties shouldn’t be dividing over the worth of free trade or capitalism. But Republicans ruled and Democrats were scrambling for a role to play when the Great Depression hit in 1929. The Democrats’ rise to power—the party dominated America from 1932 to 1968, and continued to dominate Congress for an additional 26 years—stemmed from its identification with government as a force to counter capitalism’s failings. So Democrats have a tough time with capitalism. Government is good; business is bad.

Now that Democrats are back in power because Bush failed to fight the Iraq war effectively, the heart of the party wants to return to its anti-business roots. Any free trader will struggle in the Democratic primaries. Meaning it’s quite possible than whoever wins the Democratic presidential nomination will be—in contrast to Bill Clinton in 1992 (pictured)—unqualified to manage the U.S. economy.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Helping the Middle Class

Economist and ex-Harvard president Larry Summers has an LA Times piece on how to play “win-win” with the middle class:

If the new Congress sees itself as having any kind of economic mandate, it is for policies that "stand up" for ordinary Americans against the perceived threat from corporate and moneyed interests. . .

Although workers have normally received about three-quarters of corporate income, with the remainder going to profits and interest, labor has received only about one-quarter of the increase in corporate income since 2001. . . ordinary American families do not feel like they are in the same boat as corporations and their chief executives, or even able to benefit from the same rising tides.

. . . populist economic policies . . . rarely achieve their objectives but incur huge collateral costs. Policymakers forget at their peril that globalization has enabled the U.S. economy to enjoy the very favorable combination of low unemployment and low inflation, and that without open markets, product prices would be rising much faster than they are, making living standards even worse for middle-class families.

[Find] policies that complement the market system while responding to fairness concerns. [Restore] the progressivity of the tax system — where much can be accomplished without changing the rate structure.

[Don’t] audit disproportionately the tax returns of those in the bottom half of the income scale at a time when most of the $500-billion tax gap comes from those with high incomes.

There is no policy justification for allowing the corporate income tax to be eroded through the pervasive use of tax shelters and the manipulation of transfer-price rules. Not only does this cost the government revenue, it puts unfair competitive pressure on firms that try to meet their obligations to their workers and their country.

[Also:] disclosing executive compensation, leveraging the volume of government purchases, making the financing of education more equitable, finding ways to assure that businesses continue to take responsibility for the healthcare costs of their workers . . .

President Kennedy famously challenged Americans: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." In the years ahead, this question will be put with increasing force to American corporations.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Global Warming: The Audacity of Hope

The New York Times’ Steve Lohr has a lengthy piece about the gains from pricing the cost of carbon creation more accurately:

Global warming can be seen as a classic “market failure,” and many economists, environmental experts and policy makers agree that the single largest cause of that failure is that in most of the world, there is no price placed on spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. . .

“Setting a real price on carbon emissions is the single most important policy step to take,” said Robert N. Stavins, director of the environmental economics program at Harvard University. “Pricing is the way you get both the short-term gains through efficiency and the longer-term gains from investments in research and switching to cleaner fuels.”

. . . only with some sort of federal policy in place . . .will it become clear what carbon cleanup or fuel-switching moves [utilities] may have to make, and on what sort of timetable.

Combating global warming. . . will require over-the-horizon breakthroughs involving safe nuclear energy, hydrogen power and advanced carbon sequestration — or technologies that have not yet been imagined.

But even today, there are sizable opportunities, by insisting on more efficient energy use, that are not being seized, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. In a new report, the institute. . . estimated that the yearly growth in worldwide energy demand could be cut by more than half through 2020 — to an annual rate of 0.6 percent from a forecast 2.2 percent, using current technology alone.

Available steps that would yield a more productive, and efficient, use of energy include compact fluorescent lighting, improved insulation on new buildings, reduced standby power requirements and an accelerated push for appliance-efficiency standards.

[One way] of pricing carbon [is] to place a cap on total emissions and then let polluters trade permits to emit a ton of carbon dioxide. . .Then, companies able to go below their emission targets would be allowed to sell their unused “permits to pollute” to companies that could not. . .

China and India, energy specialists say, would certainly avoid joining any international effort on global warming without an emphatic move by the United States. “Every year we delay, we contribute to another year of delay in China, India and elsewhere,” said Jason S. Grumet, executive director of the National Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan group of energy experts.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hey, Look, Patton!

Tony Blankley, writing in the Washington Times:

Official Washington, the media and much of the public have fallen under the unconscionable thrall of defeatism. Which is to say that they cannot conceive of a set of policies -- for a nation of 300 million with an annual GDP of over $12 trillion and all the skills and technologies known to man -- to subdue the city of Baghdad and environs. Do you think Gen. Patton [bold added] or Abe Lincoln or Winston Churchill or Joseph Stalin would have thrown their hands up and said, "I give up, there's nothing we can do"?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Did Rahm Emanuel lie about his knowledge of Mark Foley? Yes.

Glenn Greenwood, on his blog, goes after Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Rahm Emanuel for lying about his 2005 foreknowledge of the Mark Foley scandal:

[ABC's “This Week”’s George] Stephanopoulos explicitly asked Emanuel: "I just want to ask you plainly -- did you or your staff know anything about these emails or instant messages before they came out?"

Emanuel interrupted the question with an emphatic "no." Then, once Stephanopoulos was done with the question, this is what Emanuel replied: "George, never saw 'em . . . . " A moment later, Stephanopoulos said to Emanuel: "So you were not aware of them, had no involvement?" Emanuel replied: "No. Never saw them. No involvement. . . ." [Later,] Emanuel replied: "No. Never saw them. The first time I ever saw these things, right here was when Brian Ross broke the story."

When summarizing the reasons why he believed that the GOP House Leadership was guilty of poor judgment and a cover-up in the Foley scandal, this is what Emanuel said: ". . . In 2005, [Mark Foley]'s appointed to head the Missing and Abused Children Caucus for the Congress. When he wants to retire, they ask him to run for re-election in 2006, even knowing -- clearly -- that there is something amiss and wrong here.”

On Friday, the House Ethics Committee released its Report [which] found that "the Communications Director for both the House Democratic Caucus and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also had copies of the emails in the Fall of 2005" (p. 76). . . .It is now being reported by CNN that not only was the DCCC's Burton aware of the e-mails in 2005, but so, too, was Emanuel.

Did Rahm Emanuel explicitly and clearly lie during his October appearance on ABC?

Emanuel would likely say that he did not "lie," because each time he was asked whether he was "aware" of the e-mails -- which he plainly was -- he never denied being "aware" of them. Instead -- he would likely argue -- he changed the subject by denying that he ever "saw" the e-mails. . . But that argument, ultimately, is nonsense. If you listen to the video, there is little doubt that Emanuel was lying in every meaningful sense of that word. He not only denied having "seen" the e-mails, but also interrupted Stephanapolous's first question about whether he was "aware" of the e-mails with an emphatic "no," and at least on one other occasion, denied not only having seen the e-mails, but also having been aware of them. Those denials were just outright false (i.e., "lies").

[And when] Emanuel emphasized how inappropriate it was for Republican House Leadership to allow Foley, in 2005, to become the Chair of the Missing and Abused Children Caucus despite what Emanuel called the "warning signs" about Foley's behavior[, he] was aware of at least some of these same "warning signs" in 2005, and he said nothing about them at the time. He was guilty of doing exactly what he was piously and indignantly accusing the GOP House Leaders of doing -- namely, knowing about the Foley e-mails to pages and taking no action.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Do We Need to Win?

Bush asked [Archbishop Pietro] Sambi,
[papal nuncio to Washington,] whether he had any ideas for winning the war. According to Catholic sources, the papal nuncio responded that the Vatican did not fight but only prayed.

--Robert Novak, Columnist

Those who believe the West faces a growing struggle against Islamic extremism see Iraq as the battle’s crucial front. To the rest, other issues are more important, more immediate.

There seem three views on U.S. involvement in Iraq:

1. We never should have gone in; we should be out yesterday. Vietnam already taught us this! What’s left to learn? The soul of the Democratic Party is wrapped around such a view. To progressives, the U.S. has far better priorities. Elective wars overseas steal food out of the mouths of children and the elderly, and play to a military-industrial complex that in order to thrive, despoils the environment and kills people. Elective wars are so wrong that it is right to root for U.S. military defeat.

2. There are no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.
Considering what truly mattered to the U.S., the cost of Vietnam was out of proportion to any possible gain. Kissinger covered our retreat by re-ordering priorities away from Southeast Asia. If we could get along with China, why worry if Saigon went Communist? Kissinger’s realpolitik finds its current face in the Iraq Study Commission’s James Baker, who would have courting Iran and Syria be the 2007 version of Kissinger’s wooing of Mao and Brezhnev.

3. If we cave to extremism now, it will get worse later. This is how FDR and Churchill saw World War II, and how Reagan viewed the Cold War. It’s Bush’s view of Iraq today. Now fighting to win is much in disfavor. Yet some military historians argue that the U.S. Army under Gen. Abrams turned the Vietnam war around after Tet 1968, only to be undermined by politicians and media-shaped public opinion. And today, it’s not the U.S. military’s fault that Baghdad remains insecure. Two recent arguments for having the U.S. military take over Iraq come from the Hoover Institution’s Shelby Steele, and the American Enterprise Institute’s Reuel Marc Gerecht.

We once had generals who fought to win (George S. Patton, pictured). Now diplomats help us retreat with honor.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Who Gives. . .And Who Doesn't

ABC’s John Stossel has a report about who really gives to charity:

the idea that liberals give more is a myth. Of the top 25 states where people give an above-average percentage of their income, all but one (Maryland) were red -- conservative -- states in the last presidential election.

"When you look at the data," says Syracuse University professor Arthur Brooks, "it turns out the conservatives give about 30 percent more. And incidentally, conservative-headed families make slightly less money."

Researching his book, Who Really Cares, Brooks found that the conservative/liberal difference goes beyond money:

"The people who give one thing tend to be the people who give everything in America. You find that people who believe it's the government's job to make incomes more equal, are far less likely to give their money away." Conservatives are even 18 percent more likely to donate blood.

. . . while the rich give more in total dollars, low-income people give almost 30 percent more as a share of their income. Says Brooks: "The most charitable people in America today are the working poor". . . Note that Brooks said the "working" poor. The nonworking poor -- people on welfare -- are very different, even though they have the same income. The nonworking poor don't give much at all.

What about the middle class? Well, while middle-income Americans are generous compared to people in other countries, when compared to both the rich and working poor in America, Brooks says, "They give less." . . .

Brooks says one thing stands out as the biggest predictor of whether someone will be charitable: "their religious participation." Religious people are more likely to give to charity, and when they give, they give more money -- four times as much.

[And,] says Brooks, "Religious Americans are more likely to give to every kind of cause and charity, including explicitly nonreligious charities. Religious people give more blood; religious people give more to homeless people on the street."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Iraq: November Better for Americans

Here’s our latest monthly, highly abbreviated version of the Iraq Index, published and updated twice a week by Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution:

Americans Killed in Action, Iraq (monthly average)

2003: 32
2004: 59
2005: 56
2006: 55
November: 57

Americans Killed in Action, Vietnam (weekly average)
1965:* 30
1966: 97
1967: 177
1968: 263
* = First U.S. combat troops arrived in Vietnam, 5.3.65
Vietnam table compiled by Galen Fox using Defense Department sources.

Note please—the Vietnam KIAs are weekly, not monthly, averages.

Crude Oil Production (m. bbls./day)

Prewar: 2.50
Goal: 2.50
actual: 2.04 (11/06)

Electricity (megawatts)

Prewar: 3,958
Goal: 6,000
actual: 3,600 (11/06)

Since our last monthly Iraq report, American KIA's are down significantly, 40 below the year's October high. The 40-person drop in American KIA's to near the yearly 55-a-month average is information the mainstream media chooses not to report. Instead, the media now gives only daily figures of Iraqis and Americans killed. The U.S. KIA for November dropped because U.S. Baghdad-area combat activity declined, not because Iraq suddenly became more stable. But the media, having avoided the true explanation for October's high figures, can't now explain away the November drop. So now it just ignores the monthly death toll it was all over last month, when October's election-eve totals were so high.

At the same time combat deaths were down, oil production in November continued to fall, and is now significantly below pre-war levels. Electricity output also declined, but that drop is seasonal; power demands go down in the winter.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Moderation and Democrcy

Moderation in all things.

--Terence, Roman Comic Dramatist (185-159 BC)

I am intrigued by the fact that almost every person I am familiar with believes s/he is a relative moderate. No matter what the level of extremism, each finds someone who is more extreme. Which, I suppose, is theoretically so. It’s a simple, comforting thought. I’m here, the meat in the sandwich, and I’ve got at least one breaded cover on each side of me.

Anyway, it’s nice to know moderation gets lip-service at least. Moderation’s why democracy is such an important system of governance. Moderation is about not having a corner on the truth. Democracy lets ideas contend for influence. We can believe we are entirely right, and maybe we are. After all, look at those wrong people on each of our wings. But none of us are all right, all of the time.

So the Big Idea, the right idea, is democracy, the idea that lets all ideas contend for power. Told this year (links to related blog entries, below) that Isaiah Berlin (pictured)’s essay on “Two Concepts of Liberty” is one of the 20th Century’s most important, I’ve become a Berlin convert, Berlin escaped Nazism and Communism to proclaim mid-century at Oxford the profound importance of allowing individuals to pursue truth on their own, and the necessity of protecting them from the “truths” of others.

Please see these entries:

Freedom (July 4, 2006)

Socialism Lives (May 13, 2006)

Final Thoughts on "Two Liberties" (May 6, 2006)

"Positive Liberty" Plagues Both Parties (May 5, 2006)

Or is It "Positive Liberty"? (May 4, 2006)

Is It "Negative Liberty" We Value Most? (May 4, 2006)

"Two Concepts of Liberty" (May 1, 2006)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Can't Push Democracy Toothpaste Back In

Johns Hopkins Prof. Fouad Ajami, writing in U.S. News, makes the case for sticking by the Bush Doctrine:

In Iraq and in Lebanon, the furies of sectarianism are on the loose; and in that greater Middle East stretching from Pakistan to Morocco, the forces of freedom and reform appear chastened. Autocracy is fashionable once again, and that bet on freedom made in the aftermath of the American venture into Iraq now seems, to the skeptics, fatally compromised. For decades, we had lived with Arab autocracies, befriended them, taken their rule as the age-old dominion in lands unfit for freedom. Then came this Wilsonian moment proclaimed in the course of the war on Iraq.

To the "realists," it had been naive and foolhardy to hold out to the Arabs the promise of freedom. We had bet on the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, thrilled to these young people in Beirut's plazas reclaiming their country from Syrian tyranny. But that promise, too, has been battered, and in the shadows, the old policy of ceding Lebanon to the rule of Syria's informers and policemen now claims a measure of vindication. On the surface of things, it is the moment of the "realists," then: They speak with greater confidence. The world had lived down, as it were, to their expectations. And now they wish to return history to its old rhythm.

But in truth . . [w]e can't shy away from the very history we unleashed. We had demonstrated to the Arabs that the rulers are not deities; we had given birth to the principle of political accountability. In the same vein. . . the Shiite stepchildren of the Arab world have been given a new claim on the Arab political order of primacy and power. . .The Sunni Arab regimes have a dread of the emancipation of the Shiites. But . . . we ought to remember that the road to . . . the terrors of 9/11 had led through Sunni movements that originated in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Terror and ruin can come in Sunni and Shiite drapings alike.

. . . The American project in Iraq has been unimaginably difficult, its heartbreak a grim daily affair. But the impulse that gave rise to the war was shrewd and justified.

Siding with democracy is siding with the future.