Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Gambling Ambivalence

Justin Katz has weighed in on the Rhode Island casino debate, but doesn't seem to be able to muster up the same sort of passion he usually exhibits on other issues, such as, say Andrew Sullivan. I think he essentially has the attitude of the majority in this case as I sense that most Rhode Islanders want to have the right to not only vote on the issue, but vote for the issue.
Gambling, of itself, isn't sinful as far as I'm concerned. Yes, having a somewhat addictive personality, I've noticed the aftertaste of the temptation that it represents. Yes, the first notable scene that I came across upon entering Foxwoods Casino's parking lot in Connecticut when I was in college was an older couple — cusp of retirement, I'd say — crying in each other's arms.

Still, a night of roulette, blackjack, and slot machines, with a reasonable expense cap, isn't wrong or corrosive in the way that a night costing the same amount at a brothel would be. For some patrons, the all-you-can-eat buffet is the more seductive opportunity for excess.

So, I've been more or less ambivalent about the matter of allowing a Rhode Island tribe to build a casino on its land.
As marijuana use, I think many view gambling as, if not a victimless "crime," at least a controllable vice. Justin seems a bit ambivalent on moral costs as well.
For one thing, I know families that have suffered the consequences of a gambling addiction facilitated by just the Jai Alai enterprise in Newport, so any state policy toward a full-blown casino can't stand on anti-gambling principle. If the objection is to the greater draw that a casino would have, then it seems to me that regulating size is the logical answer.

For another thing, as much as I don't believe gambling to be an undeniable sin, I'm not comfortable with governments' seeing it as a source of revenue. Whether or not a casino yields a public profit seems to me irrelevant to the yes/no question of whether one ought to be allowed in the state.

In a previous post I detailed the social and economic costs incurred by communities (in this case those home to the two casinos in neighboring Connecticut) that harbor gaming casinos. But Justin's reluctance to embrace gambling as a legitimate source of state revenue echoes my own feelings and has brought me to the realization that perhaps the best way to wage a battle against a casino is not from a moral, but from a political angle.

I still believe that the social costs are real. Yet, I also strongly believe that a central argument for or against a casino centers around the degree to which state revenue will rise or fall. This fosters a "quick-fix" attitude towards the "casino solution" in both the general population and the state government and is disheartening for a proponent of smaller, less involved government. So, perhaps the best argument I could muster would be from the ideological stance of handicapping Rhode Island's spendthrift government by voting for that side of the casino gambling issue that would leave it with the least amount of money at its disposal. If nothing else, we can be confident that the more money the General Assembly has at its disposal, the more money it will waste, including much that will be used towards patronage and, thus, the further entrenchment of the same old political actors.

Revealing Snippet of Truth by ProJo editorial board

Brief, but true, observation made today by the Providence Journal editors.
We've read many old newsmagazines, dating back to the '30s. They were filled with the conventional wisdom of the era ('Peace in our time,' etc.). This convinced us that the public and the press are almost always wrong (in the short term) about events -- military, geopolitical, economic, etc. A minimum of five years seems to be needed for perspective -- too luxurious for those who must make decisions, not just comment.
It would serve us all to remember, in these days of fast news and instant analysis, that a bit of perspective is required when analyzing "current" events. Snap judgements are rarely correct, especially those based on a tacit historical analysis between past events and contemporary. But it sure is fun!

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Keegan off-target on Historical Analysis of Iraq

As he has in the past, the British historian John Keegan has written of the legitimacy of the war with Saddam.
The war was conceived and conducted in the honest belief that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. It was legally justified by United Nations Security Council Resolutions 678, 687 and 1441. It was, moreover, as a military operation, astonishingly successful, probably the most successful war ever fought between a democracy and a dictatorship.
However, he offers some analysis of what has gone wrong with the occupation and, I believe, has embarked on a bit of second-guessing.
One does not have to belong to the anti-war coalition to believe that something has gone wrong or to believe that what has gone wrong could have been avoided. Whether the current Washington regime was capable of avoiding the trouble is a more complex issue. President George W Bush brought with him into power an entourage of highly opinionated advisers, who were rapidly appointed to influential positions. They have become known as "neo-conservatives", since many were people formerly on the Left who subsequently moved Right.
Keegan doesn't rehash the same old meme concerning the now-near-universally-vilified "neo-conservatives." Rather, he explores from whence their ideology sprung.
A more accurate way of describing them would be as "post-Marxists", in that, like many 20th-century intellectuals, their thinking was formed in reaction to the Soviet system, whether originally for or against. In the world in which they matured, it was impossible not to perceive politics as the supreme and dominant human activity. Their perception had distorting after-effects.
In short, they believed that all problems could be resolved politically, at least in the wide-sense of the term. (Note that this is not the same as diplomatically.)
Confronted by the residue of tyranny, as in post-Soviet Eastern Europe, they expected democracy to take its place. Inside any people's democracy, they might have said, there is a real democracy struggling to get out. In the case of eastern Europe, they were genuinely right. Fifty years' experience of Marxist orthodoxy had conditioned every intelligent East European to yearn for democracy and to embrace it warmly wherever it showed itself.
This seemed to fulfill their belief, but
The neo-conservatives' mistake was to suppose that, wherever tyranny ruled, democracy was its natural alternative. So, when planning for the government of post-war Iraq, the lead agency, the Pentagon, dominated by neo-conservatives, jumps to the conclusion that, as soon as Saddam's tyranny was destroyed, Iraqi democrats would emerge to assume governmental responsibility from the liberating coalition and a pro-Western regime would evolve seamlessly from the flawed past.
Unfortunately, the "post-Marxist" cannot conceive of anything but a political solution, so they missed the fact that Iraq was not dominated by politics, but religion.
It is religion, of course, which the American neo-conservatives have come up against in post-Saddam Iraq. Not only religion; the survivors of the Ba'ath Party, a strictly secular organisation, are also deeply involved in the opposition to the American presence. Religion is, however, the real opposition force. The question is whether the grip it has established in the past year can be loosened.
Here, I think Keegan has provided and oversimplified view of Islam. In Iraq, and much of the Middle East, religion is inherently political. On a macro scale, the Sunni and Shia sects operate against each other within the political milieu, and factions within each sect operate similarly. Iran's attempt to influence the Iraqi Shia's, while it may appear a natural extension of a shared religion, is actually done with a distinct political goal in mind: the establishment of an Iranian client state in Iraq. In this sense, then, religion is being used as a political tool and cannot be extricated as easily as Keegan would have us believe.

There has certainly never been a tradition of the sort of liberal democracy in the Middle East. While the same could be said of most of the countries under communist rule, they still seemed to embrace democracy, as Keegan rightly points out. So if it is not a disconnect between those thinking a political solution is the only possible solution and the reality of the situation within Iraq, what does explain the reluctance by Iraqi's to embrace democracy? The answer is much more complex than that offered by Keegan.

First, one must assume that Iraqi's aren't embracing democracy. I don't actually accept that premise. As has been well chronicled throughout the blogosphere, the media has simply under-reported the successes in Iraq, many of which have derived from a growing sense of freedom among the population. Thus, I won't travel any further along this well-covered ground. But the Iraqi's certainly seem very passive in embracing democracy.

The many reasons include the lack of confidence in overall security within the nation in very specific areas and the natural reticence and cynicism among people to get "a new boss, just like the old boss". There is also a half-century of anti-American propaganda, still ongoing by the way, to overcome. How does a newly-free society embrace the sort of government practiced by those it has been so thoroughly taught to hate for fifty years? With great reluctance and a wary "wait-and-see" attitude, I would think. This leads me to something that is fundamentally different between the former communist eastern European and Iraq that Keegan missed in his comparison.

Keegan rightly alludes to the fact that eastern Europeans were well-versed in the communist orthodoxy that held democracy in high esteem, if not in practice. They were aware of the ideal and saw it exhibited by its primary purveyor, the United States of America. As such, the democratic ideal was associated with an ideological framework of liberal democracy provided by the example of the United States. This was facilitated by shared traditions rooted in the history of Western civilization (Athens, Rome, Christianity). Additonally, America was upheld as the best-yet construction of a government that both championed and protected liberty. When freedom came, they actively and enthusiastically sought the help of America and endeavored to mimic her institutions as best and as quickly as possible. Another crucial fact was that they at least had the impression that they had been active participants in acquiring their own freedom. The same cannot be said in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.

The Arab world, and Iraq was no exception, is rent by class struggle. The majority of the population is powerless and poor. The ideology that has shaped and focused their anger against their lot in life has two primary points of emphasis. The first is the belief that a cultural revival based on a strictly defined, usually Wahabian strain of Islam (in which the idyllic life is dominated by mullahs) that seeks power for itself by advocating the toppling of the more secular leadership of whatever country in which they reside. The second is the demonization of the West as the purveyors of all that is antithetical to the Islamic ideal. (As a sidenote, this last is, ironically, encouraged and fed by the secular antagonists whose removal from power is the ultimate goal in the first place. These heads of state, kings and princes all, have successfully shifted the focus from themselves to the Zionists and their supporters. At least until recent months, as the Al Queda resurgence in Saudi Arabia has shown.)

Thus, the past that the Muslims call on, unlike the shared Western civil tradition of the old Eastern bloc countries, is suffused with religious ideology of the most extreme kind and lacks any real sense of individual self-determination. Whether this is a historically accurate portrayal of the Islamic past or not is not the point, it is this radical ideology that prevails in the cellars and shadows of Arab totalitarian states. As such, the ideology of insurgency, or perhaps a better phrase would be the ideology of self-rule, has at its basic core a return to an Islamist theocracy. I don't know the extent to which this ideology prevailed in Iraq, but I believe it is safe to assume that it was, and is, prevalent. Therefore, it is understandable that we weren't welcomed with open arms. (That, and the fact that we encouraged rebellion in the past and then pulled back.)

Keegan believes that the "post-Marxists" (or "neo-Conservatives") failed to see that there wasn't a political solution to Iraq and that the main hurdle to overcome was religious. He was half-right. In fact, in the Arab world, religion and politics are intertwined. Though we in the United States are familiar with religion and government intersecting occasionally, we hold the concept of a separation of church and state (in varying degrees) as fundamental to a degree simply not present in the Arab world. If anything, the Administration underestimated the degree to which religion formed the basis of Islamic political ideology. In short, while we in the west have drifted to an overarching secularism, the Arab world seeks to take an opposite course. They are informed by their immediate experience in which secularism is tantamount to totalitarian rule.

I think that we were surprised that we weren't overtly embraced and showered with gratitude when we liberated Iraq (I was), but we should have realized that the fundamental baseline of individual liberty has not been established in Iraq. Man longs to be free, but a mind not familiar with such a concept will have a hard time visualizing that desire and recognizing it when it occurs. Thus, he is not equipped to articulate his joy if he is unaware of what has just occurred. Also, it is basic human nature to distrust those who have apparently acquired power in a violent manner. The nostalgic feeling that "he was a crook, but he was our crook" is often a normal response to a new apparent governing power. The United States was faced with some hard work to show that it wasn't the monster portrayed by Saddam and some of the mullahs, such as Al Sadr.

Keegan believes that the United States erred in removing the Baathist governmental infrastructure, thus, he says, "Iyad Allawi has now to rebuild Iraq's military and civilian services from exactly the same group of individuals who the neo-conservatives rejected at the outset." While he doesn't mention this, there is another useful comparison between the former Soviet client states and Iraq to be made. The nature of the governments in the eastern bloc changed, but many of the same people remained in place. Thus, the transfer of power was smoother than that of Iraq as the institutional infrastructure remained in place. (Still, it must be remembered that the transfer of power went nowhere as smoothly as is generally believe, Bosnia is example enough of this fact. And, as most do, Keegan forgets that Bosnia is still being monitored by the United Nations and experiencing violence, nearly a decade after the fighting was "over.") Keegan makes an accurate point, but it is still not germane to Iraq, which saw a violent change in power unlike the mostly peaceful transfers of eastern Europe. Keegan expresses a hope that
...the neo-conservatives and their Democrat equivalents have learnt a lesson, since it is unlikely that this is the last time the United States will have to undertake an exercise in nation-building. Next time Washington should take as its target the preservation of as much as possible. Looking back, better a Ba'athist Iraq than an Islamic one. Let us hope that it is not too late.
Left unsaid is whether the Iraqi people would have embraced such a situation. Thus, if that had been the situation, would a more Islamicist based insurgency now be underway as opposed to the mostly Baathist and terrorist uprising now going on? To a large extent, historians are paid to second-guess, but they should remember that while calling into question the problems of decisions made they should be required to answer questions that arise from the solutions they profer.

Gradually, the Iraqis are realizing what freedom means and are anxious to excercise their new rights by electing their own government. The efforts of the United States military to "win the hearts and minds" is succeeding, even if the gratitude is left unsaid or even unrealized. Though expression of gratitude may seem scant, the obvious desire of the Iraqis to enter into self-rule is all the evidence that is needed that the United States succeeded in its mission: Saddam Hussein was removed from power and the Iraqi people are clearly on the path to self-rule. The Iraqi people will decide the nature of their government, the degree to which it is secular or religious. It is their country and up to them. They will make the decision, not the United States, not the United Nations, not the mullahs. Can this be viewed as anything other than a success?

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Connecticut Casino Reality vs. Rhode Island Casino Promises

Richard A. Hines of the Advisory Board of Citizens Concerned About Casino Gambling has a piece in today's ProJo comparing the reality of casino's in Connecticut with the promise of one in Rhode Island.
Two assertions by casino promoters -- that Connecticut's treasury is being enriched by the millions of dollars gambled away at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun and that residents and businesses in the communities that host these casinos are happy to have them -- fail under even the most cursory examination.

The 25-percent tax on slot-machine revenue imposed by Connecticut -- the percentage that Harrah's wants to pay in Rhode Island -- brings Connecticut about $400 million a year. This sounds like a lot of money compared with the $200 million Rhode Island collects from its 60-percent tax on video slot machines in Lincoln and Newport.

But on a per-capita basis, Rhode Island actually collects more from Lincoln Park and Newport Grand than Connecticut collects from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Per-capita revenue from these sources in Rhode Island is $186, compared with only $115 in Connecticut.
So if gambling revenue is the objective, we're already doing 60 percent better than Connecticut. This should end the argument that we're losing out on millions of gambling dollars flowing out of state.
Now, perhaps some won't buy this sort of per-capita breakdown and prefer to deal in whole numbers. That's fine, but, to me anyway, the social costs have always outweighed any purported financial "gains" that a gambling casino would bring to the state. Hines further explains that the Conneticut communities that host the casinos have seen "increased traffic, demand for emergency services, crime, and need for affordable housing, schools and other municipal services have driven public expenditures far higher than any increased revenue from the casino taxes" and he provides figures to support his claims. (I note that he doesn't make apparent all of his sources for these figures, though many appear to be from various State of Connecticut studies.) Some of the more alarming examples he cites include the fact that
State Police Troop E, responsible for the areas including Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, must contend with the highest drunken-driving rate in the state. North Stonington has closed two houses of prostitution. Ledyard reported a 300-percent increase in its crime rate during 1990-98, at the same time that the New London-area crime rate dropped more than 10 percent.
The communities aren't making any money on the deal, either.
Yearly expenditures by the 21 towns in New London County jumped by $58 million more than they would have without the casinos, reported the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments. These costs, offset by only $14 million from a state fund maintained by slot-machine revenues, were necessary to educate the casino workers' children, to deal with increased traffic, and to provide other municipal services. Increased taxes and debt made up the difference between the extra $58 million cost and the $14 million received from state taxes on the casinos.
Oh yes, and about all of those jobs that a casino creates?
The jobs created by casinos -- and touted by Harrah's and its lobbyists as a benefit to Rhode Island -- are mostly low-wage service jobs, which put an extra burden on communities that lack housing that the workers can afford. To accommodate the Connecticut casino workers, single-family residences have been converted into multi-family units -- resulting in a near epidemic of housing-code violations and "hot bunking," in which casino employees working different shifts share beds.
Sounds like a real high quality life, huh? These jobs are fine, for college kids, but I wouldn't say that one should aspire for this to be their ultimate career goal, would you? Perhaps worse is the increase in gambling addiction in the state, particulary among those who can least afford it.
Some 52 percent of the people phoning the Helpline of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling in 2002 earned less than $32,000 a year but had losses of more than $23,000 a year -- with an average lifetime loss of $115,000. The University of Connecticut Health Center found that problem gamblers who can ill afford it spend an average of $2,000 a month. Their troubles, the study reported, spill into their families, affecting the lives of 8 to 10 other people.
Does this sound like the kind of "economic development" we want in out state? Casinos are a quick fix that aren't a fix at all. To me, they are not worth the money just based on the social costs. Apparently, not all agree, and the General Assembly, despite confusion over the exact nature of the casino legislation they just passed and the noise being made by GTECH that their interest wasn't protected in the new bill, is going to put the question on the ballot for the voters to decide. The Governor seems to be against this and has threatened to veto the measure. Despite my opposition to gambling in Rhode Island, I would have to say that he should just let the measure come to a vote. I understand his reluctance, but this is one of those situations where the voters should be able to voice their opinion. Ultimately, the citizens of this state will get what they want, and I fear that, consequences be damned, a casino in Rhode Island is on the horizon.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

My only comment on Clinton Week, Promise.

John Derbyshire at NRO claims he never got the Clinton "charm." Neither did I. I remember seeing him on TV during the Democratic convention in 1992, with "Don't Stop" by Fleetwood Mac playing in the arena, and getting a feeling in the pit of my stomach and thinking, "This turkey is going to win." Then, that summer and fall, I watched as the media hyped "their" first President (in case you forget, he was the first Baby Boomer President), watched them downplay the economic rebound and, of course, watched Larry King cynically pimp Ross "The Li'l General" Perot to erode the Bush base. November saw my summer intuition born out.

Bill Clinton loved being President, especially being a popular President. His ideology was on the Left, but his pragmatic political sense consistently placed him on the winning side of many issues. (That's a nice way of saying he polled the hell out of any issue before taking a "principled" stance). First and foremost, Bill Clinton was concerned with Bill Clinton. He started trying to build his legacy from almost the first day he was in the Oval Office. His book is only the latest project. Unfortunately for the former President, his legacy is already etched in our minds. It is not Welfare reform or Middle East Peace. His legacy, what most of us remember first when we think of Bill Clinton, is a stain on a blue dress.

I guess the thing that always bothered me about the Clinton era wasn't Clinton himself so much as the fact that people couldn't see through him. To me, it came down to one fundamental thing: he cheated on his wife, more than once, and lied, repeatedly, about it. This was known BEFORE THE ELECTION. How could we have expected he wouldn't lie again? Should we have really been surprised with what happened when he was in office? But he was smart, he knew that what Americans want most from a sinner is overt contrition, and Bill Clinton excelled at public displays of emotion. He was the master of "The lip bite" and the downcast eyes. He was the consumate empathic politician. Ronald Reagan was an actor who became President, but Bill Clinton was an Actor President.

Perhaps the answer to the question of how the American people could have accepted a person of such questionable character lay in the fact that his very character faults made us feel, somehow, better about ourselves. Heck, many thought, if this rogue could be President, what could I achieve? This sort of collective ego-boost was also cultivated and aided by the timed-released fertilizer of moral relativism sown by the postmodernists. The 90's saw the emergence and prevalence of the "Who knows what I would have done in his shoes..." or "It's not my place to judge..." attitude among the general population. We were told by the media, by academia, by the "thinkers" that we shouldn't judge unless we were ready to be judged. Implicit was the idea that only those living up to a moral ideal could make such judgements. Of course, rare is that sort of individual, especially when moral codes are all relative, after all? (At least to a postmodern). So, we were told it wasn't our place to judge, it was "just sex" and, after all, Clinton was really smart (Rhodes Scholar!) and cool (he played the saxaphone!) and could relate to the average Joe (Bubba!).

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukayama said that the 90's were the end of history. (He has, for obvious reasons, come off of that point since 9/11). Now, it looks like it was merely a decade long spring-break party, and Bill Clinton, President of the wealthiest fraternity in the world, led the way. The media and others often refer to the 80's as the "me" decade, but they are wrong, for that is descriptive of the 90's. With our own President as an example, we believed that anything was OK, and if someone got hurt while we indulged ourselves, well, we just apoligized and kept on going. Hedonism was in and morality was something to be dispensed with until it was really needed, if ever. Life was a party, the USA was hosting, and there were no permanent repercussions, until, finally, Clinton went too far.

His illicit affair with a young intern was a turning point. Some people awoke out of their stupor and decided it was time to get back to reality, some, predictably, defended him to the end and urged us to keep the party going. Some, who were suspicious all along, let their long simmering anger get the best of them and, like Prohibition-era police, attempted to break up the party by taking bats to the kegs, which resulted in making the guilty President appear less criminal and more victim. Those who pushed for the proper punishment pushed the American people too hard, too fast. They lost the propaganda war, the President pulled his contrition act, and the Senate saved his bacon. The result was impeachment, but not removal from office. History will probably show that this was, in the end, the proper conclusion. Clinton was rendered ineffective and his unserious Presidency simply withered away. Yet, importantly, the whole affair left a bitter taste in the mouths of the majority of Americans. We took stock and realized that someone more serious was needed to occupy the Oval Office. In 2000, we were lucky in that there appeared to be two candidates who fit the bill. (Al Gore was viable then, what has happened since...who knows?) Finally, most of us woke up from the 90s' hangover and realized that character does count.

So, perhaps that is truly Bill Clinton's legacy. Perhaps we now realize that not just anyone can be President. Our President needs to have moral clarity, a core set of values and the willingness to make tough decisions, be they popular or not. This is true, regardless of party or ideology. We aren't electing the Fraternity President, we are electing the President of the United States. In this, we should be serious. We've made the mistake before. We knew Bill Clinton lied before he was President, he lied as President, and I suspect his glorious book may contain a few lies as well. If that's the kind of thing that appeals to you, enjoy the book. I have no time for autobiographical fiction.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Clio as Partisan: How History is used (or abused)

This post by Steven Den Beste looks like something I can sink my teeth into. Here's a sample:
In the 'new' 'enlightened' approach to history, you don't study historical events in order to learn the consequences and results of certain kinds of decisions and policies. History is a source of lessons, but you don't study history and derive lessons from past events. The lesson comes first. The conclusion is already known. You study history to find justifications for that lesson, but you already know the lesson is right before you begin that study.

He uses Howard Zinn (no stranger here) as an example, which is certainly one of the more extreme examples one could offer.

He has touched on something that has ALWAYS been part of the field of history: historians often set out to prove a conclusion, regardless of what the record tells them. He seems to think it is something that has occurred in only the last 30 years or so. In fact, the Progressive historians at the turn of the century argued that the American Revolution was primarily a social revolution (or two, externally against Britain and internally against the semblance of aristocracy in the colonies). In doing so, they projected back into the Revolutionary era much of what they were witnessing during their era when class and social tensions were coming to a head. (Similarly, the Marxist school viewed history from a social tension/revolution viewpoint and Marxist Historians apply this template to their study of history.) In short, if one has a 'theory of history', one tends to view history through that prism.

Once a theory is embraced, it is the rare historian who can temporarily disengage himself from his particular avatar of Clio to analyze history from a different perspective. (Perhaps the greatest trap that historians fall into is so-called "present-mindedness": the application of present-day values to the past.) Good historians may still have a particular central theory, but they are smart and open enough to bring in other theories to flesh out and inform them on the topic that they are focusing on. For example, an intellectual historian (focusing on how ideas affect history), if responsible, would also look at social, diplomatic, political, military, economic, cultural and even psychological aspects surrounding a historical event, person or problem to gain a better understanding. In essence, history is a wheel where, in this example, the hub is formed by the approach called "Intellectual" but supported by the various spokes of the other approaches. Without a hub (a core philosophy or approach to history) the spokes would simply collapse: without the spokes, the hub would not be able to extend and turn the wheel of historical knowledge.

I may have gone off of a bit of a tangent, though. In essence, Den Beste is talking about those historians who have allowed political ideology or dogma to predetermine their historical finding, which isn't necessarily the same as allowing oneself to be dominated by a particular theory of history. It may be a subtle line, but there is difference between:
A) Viewing history through an ideological lens, but gathering ALL information (even that which may counter your ideological preconceptions) to formulate a historical work in an attempt to get closer to historical truth, or
B) Determining a historical truth that aligns with an ideology and then fitting the facts (or even just using facts that support your argument) to prove the predetermined conclusion.

We cannot take away our biases, but we can attempt to suspend them so that we are receptive to other points of view regarding history. This doesn't mean that all points of view are ultimately valid, but to a historian, they are at least initially so until their veracity is disproven. I have no problem with dogmatic belief, per se, as it is important to be able to know what one believes without necessarily having to delve into the a priori beginnings of those beliefs. For a good explanation of the difference, and benefits, of dogma versus philosophy, I'd recommend Jonah Goldberg's piece, posted today. It's well worth the read. (hat tip: Justin Katz)

Keith Windschuttle, an Australian, presented a paper (Paper to NSW Higher School Certificate History Extension conference, June 2 2004) that also touched on this problem. The beginning and end of his presentation are especially germane to the topic (the main course of discussion is his explanation of how he blew apart a myth regarding Aboriginal genocide on Tasmania). The whole piece is interesting and instructive of what objective historians have to contend with within the field. (I've touched on the dangers of relativist postmodernism before, so I'll refrain...this time). His conclusion serves as a perfect ending to this post:
None of this means you cannot draw political conclusions from history. Indeed, history remains one of our best teachers of political lessons. But it can only teach us well if we set out to seek the truth. If we start historical research with our political minds already made up we are doing no more than re-circulating our existing political prejudices.

Let me finish by emphasizing that all historians have a public responsibility to report their evidence fully and accurately and to cite their sources honestly. To pretend that facts do not matter and that acceptable interpretations can be drawn from false or non-existent evidence is to abandon the pursuit of historical truth altogether. Historians who do so betray their professional duty to preserve the integrity of the ancient discipline of history itself.

Friday, June 18, 2004

History of the Laffer Curve

Hey, it turns out that the Laffer Curve wasn't actually invented by Arthur Laffer after all. He has a piece, "The Laffer Curve: Past, Present, and Future", in which it turns out that there is evidence of its existence in Medieval times. According to Laffer, "The Laffer Curve, by the way, was not invented by me. For example, Ibn Khaldun, a 14th century Muslim philosopher, wrote in his work The Muqaddimah: 'It should be known that at the beginning of the dynasty, taxation yields a large revenue from small assessments. At the end of the dynasty, taxation yields a small revenue from large assessments.'" So it seems that perhaps the Dark Ages weren't so "Dark" after all. OK, (I'll get off my medevialist soapbox now.)

The "Inquisition" Revisited

Thomas Madden has an informative piece regarding the Inquisition.

In preparation for the Jubilee in 2000, Pope John Paul II wanted to find out just what happened during the time of the Inquisition's (the institution's) existence. In 1998 the Vatican opened the archives of the Holy Office (the modern successor to the Inquisition) to a team of 30 scholars from around the world. Now at last the scholars have made their report, an 800-page tome that was unveiled at a press conference in Rome on Tuesday. Its most startling conclusion is that the Inquisition was not so bad after all. Torture was rare and only about 1 percent of those brought before the Spanish Inquisition were actually executed. As one headline read "Vatican Downsizes Inquisition."

Madden describes how "[t]he amazed gasps and cynical sneers that have greeted this report are just further evidence of the lamentable gulf that exists between professional historians and the general public." He is correct on this last point. Unfortunately, as I've mentioned before, "historical revisionism" has become equated with "politically correct" view of history and is viewed negatively. The fact is, it usually takes the general public a generation or sometimes two, to catch up with the latest historical findings.

The origins of the American Revolution, a much debated topic to this day, is still taught as either a social movement or a rebellion led by and kept alive by heroic figures like George Washington or John Paul Jones. While certain aspects of this are true, these historical "schools of thought" have, generally speaking, been around since the 19th and early 20th century, respectively. More recent scholarship has argued about the conservative nature of the Revolution, the ideological origins, the influence of Enlightenment thought and a host of other interpretations. The scholarship of the last 50 years is still basically ignored, not because it is invalid, but, possibly, because it may be too nuanced to teach. Regardless, we are reticent to "relearn" what we thought was historical "truth" as we don't realize that historians had their own agendas when writing of events. Bias isn't something new, we are just more aware of it. This applies to the field of history, too. Hence, revision in history is critically important as it helps us get closer to the real truth.

"Failed Preemption"

Nothing new, right? Wrong. In this case, the Post has editorialized about the failure of preemptive European "soft power" to persuade Iran from working towards nuclear weaponry. The full editorial is here. Selections from the piece are below (items in bold are my emphasis):

". . . as a confrontation loomed between Iran and the United Nations over Iran's illicit nuclear programs, three European governments staged a preemptive operation. Flying to Tehran, the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany struck a deal with Iran's Islamic regime: The Europeans would block a referral of Iran's violations to the U.N. Security Council and provide technical cooperation, and in exchange Iran would stop its work on uranium enrichment, fully disclose its nuclear programs and accept a new U.N. protocol giving inspectors greater access. The Bush administration was upstaged; some in Paris and Berlin smugly suggested that it had been given an object lesson by the Europeans in how 'soft power' could be used to manage the rogue states in President Bush's 'axis of evil.'

This week, with the world's attention focused on the troubled situation in Iraq, the European version of preemption is yielding its own bitter -- if less bloody -- result. Inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency have reported that Iran never honored its agreement; it has stalled and stonewalled the inspectors while continuing to work on elements of a nuclear program that could soon allow it to produce weapons. The Europeans have responded by drafting for approval by the 35-member IAEA board a stern statement demanding Iranian cooperation; Tehran has replied with threats to restart uranium enrichment and suspend negotiations with the West.

. . . there can be no disguising the fact that the European strategy for handling one of the world's most dangerous proliferation problems is proving feckless. . .

For now, military action is not an option in Iran, at least for Western countries. But if a crisis is to be avoided, a better strategy is needed. The Bush administration, which once advocated referral of the Iranian matter to the Security Council for consideration of sanctions, now is merely pressing for a deadline for Iranian compliance. The Europeans reject even that as too aggressive. Yet it should now be clear that if Iranian nuclear ambitions are to be checked, Europe -- and Russia -- will have to forcefully employ the leverage of their diplomatic and economic relations with Tehran. So far, only carrots have been offered -- and they have produced no results."

On a related note, Victor Davis Hanson explains why Europe insists on this "soft power" approach, but more importantly, why they don't want us to succeed in Iraq because "it might be interpreted as a moral refutation of their own opposition to Saddam's removal." An opposition strongly based on their refusal to acknowledge that sometimes "hard power" is needed for the ultimate goal of the greater good. (Hanson's piece is devoted to how we should only hope for a neutral Europe and he provides some historical perspective on how Europe, especially France and Germany, have never really embraced us, contrary to popular myth).

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Absolutely Swamped

That's me right now. For the two or three of you who may come around, don't expect much, Blogging will be light.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Who were they talking about; Reagan or Bush?

Katherine Jean Lopez at The Corner on National Review Online has and interesting little quiz. 20 Quotes are provided, and we are to figure out whether they were referring to Reagan or Bush. For posterity, I am posting them below. If you want to work it out on your own, then go to the original post referenced above, as I am also posting the original source of the quotes, again, for a single source reference for myself. If you just want to know, read on.

1)“European discomfort with the President, however, goes beyond the political differences that preceded and will outlast his presidency. It has, as well, a personal basis. He appears to Europeans to be ill equipped for the responsibility that he bears, a kind of cowboy figure, bellicose, ignorant, with a simplistic view of the world… [Michael Mandelbaum, Foreign Affairs, ”America and the World 1985”]

2)“[The President] came to Europe to persuade people that he is not the shallow, nuclear cowboy of certain unkind assessments. Said [a] White House spokesman … on the eve of departure, ‘Some in Europe do not know or understand him.’ But now that the president has been among them… Europeans may think they got him right the first time.” [Mary McGrory, Washington Post, June 10, 1982]

3)“For many Europeans… America has become paranoid… [which has] led them to take their distance from us… Mutual recrimination becomes political action. Both sides of the Atlantic, writes … an editor of the influential Hamburg weekly Die Zeit, are ‘losing interest in each other.’ … The estrangement has not come naturally. The communality of heritage and beliefs between the United States and Europe is old and powerful and has withstood frequent vicissitudes. However, an accumulation of events and developments has built up enough discord to threaten the most solid of foundations.” [New York Times, May 9, 1982]

4)“The anti-American theme, a popular subject for campaigning politicians, is aimed mostly at U.S. policy and the [U.S.] administration. This country is pictured as a French David standing up to an American Goliath. [The French foreign minister] warned during the … controversy: ‘There is a progressive divorce between Washington and Europe …. The U.S. seems totally indifferent to our problems.’” [US News & World Report, December 20, 1982]

5)“In a day of protests across Western Europe, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated against the [American policy]… The protest organizers said about 1.2 million people took part in the demonstrations…. Hundreds of thousands jammed central London in what was said to be the largest protest of its kind in British history. In Rome, an estimated 350,000 marchers paraded through the center of the city.” [James M. Markham, New York Times, October 23, 1983]

6) “Europe Sees U.S. Foreign Policy As Out Of Control” – Los Angeles Times headline [Los Angeles Times headline, December 4, 1986]

7) “Speaking to members of the American Stock Exchange, [Senator Edward] Kennedy said, ‘Our present course is taking the United States toward unilateral intervention … toward a war, whether we want it or not, whether we like it or not, (that) will inevitably involve American forces in combat. But surely, an American invasion… would plunge us into the most unwanted, unnecessary and unjustified war in our history,’ Kennedy said…. Kennedy said Congress must propose ‘an alternative policy with a real prospect of success.’ ‘So, as a first step, we must call off the dogs of war,’ he said.” [United Press International, June 11, 1985]

8)“[W]e have a President who is obsessed by the subject. [Nicaragua for Ronald Reagan – or Iraq for George W. Bush] is his Moby Dick. Like a political Ahab, he pursues it beyond reason, beyond humanity, beyond safety. In his frustration, he spews out rage and hate, fear and falsehood.” [Anthony Lewis, New York Times, March 24, 1986]

9) “[The President] has substituted a mindless militarism for a foreign policy… frightening our friends… Already, the cost of [the President’s] policies is devastating to our country in economic strength, in diplomatic influence, in national security, in moral stature.” [John B. Oakes, former senior editor, New York Times, November 1, 1981]

10) “‘This has been a foreign policy without a guiding star,’ said… a former official in Republican administrations… ‘It has been the most ideological administration of U.S foreign relations I've seen and the least conceptual, in terms of a clear vision of what the world ought to be like and what we would do to get there.’” [Don Oberdorfer, Washington Post, November 20, 1983]

11)“The tangible achievements of his first term have been relatively modest. His economic program, in the judgment of many experts, has succeeded almost in spite of itself – and the current recovery is built on record deficits that will burden the nation for a generation. His foreign policy has lacked coherence…” [Tom Morganthau, Newsweek, August 27, 1984]

12) “Unilateral intervention by a truculent and trigger-happy Uncle Sam might delight some U.S. citizens – frustrated by events, eager for easy answers – but elsewhere… it would only serve to reaffirm the worst fears…” [Editorial, Los Angeles Times, August 7, 1985]

13) “The United States has a myopic, ideological foreign policy that really isn't a policy at all, but a collection of maneuvers produced by prejudice and instinct. The men responsible for American diplomacy, it seems, often fail to grasp they have put us into grave trouble around the world…. [The President] has angered and undermined his closest ally in Europe, [the British Prime Minister], and he has aggravated the gravest problem facing the United States, a problem symbolized by the largest protest demonstrations in Europe since World War II...” [Robert Kaiser, Washington Post, October 30, 1983]

14)“To win that vote [congressional vote to authorize support for its foreign policy goals], the Administration is now reduced to McCarthyite tactics: the insinuation that foes of its … policy are … stooges or worse. Can Congress be whipped by these tactics into a policy of such moral, military and political degradation?” [John B. Oakes, New York Times, March 7, 1986]

15)“When a politician claims that God favors his programs, alarm bells should ring… If there is anything that should be illegitimate in the American system, it is such use of sectarian religiosity to sell a political program. And this was done not by some fringe figure, but by the President of the United States.” [Anthony Lewis, New York Times, March 10, 1983]

16)“What is the world to think when the greatest of powers is led by a man who applies to the most difficult human problem a simplistic theology – one in fact rejected by most theologians?... What must the leaders of Western Europe think of such a speech? … The exaggeration and the simplicities are there not only in the rhetoric but in the process by which he makes decisions.” [Anthony Lewis, New York Times, March 10, 1983]

17)“Perhaps even more dangerous, [the President’s] smug view, if further inculcated in Americans, will preclude self-examination, humility, a willingness to concede error. Are we so clearly a God-directed, chosen people that we have no need to question our virtue, or the evil of our rivals? If [the President] really thinks so, he has shaken off the strongest restraints on human conduct – doubt and fear.” [Tom Wicker, New York Times, March 15, 1983]

18) "[Pollster Lou Harris] believes that [the President] is polarizing the country more than any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt and that, when such strong political polarization occurs, it tends to lead to a greater voter turnout. That would benefit the Democrats…" [Haynes Johnson, Washington Post, January 29, 1984]

19) "'[The President] has been a divider, not a uniter… The American people will reject four more years of danger, four more years of pain,’ [a leading congressional Democrat] said." [The Associated Press, January 30, 1984]

20) "[One state Democratic chairman] said: '[The President] has a lot of problems. The less he does, the better he does; the more he does, the worse he does. He keeps polarizing the voters, and the Republican Party is not big enough to allow that. An incumbent President must unite the country, not divide it. It’s unbelievably bad strategy on their part.'" [Dom Bonafede, The National Journal, May 5, 1984]

The Right Nation

National Review Online is running excerpts from a book called The Right Nation here. A quote from the piece:

Twice as many Americans describe themselves as "conservative" (41 percent) as describe themselves as "liberal" (19 percent). Wander around America — particularly Southern and Western America — and you'll find plenty of towns that feel like Colorado Springs. As Republicans never stop pointing out, the counties that voted for George W. Bush take up far more of the map than the ones that voted for Al Gore.

These places help to explain modern America. They explain why George W. Bush is in the White House, why the Republican Party has won six of the past nine presidential elections and controls both houses of Congress, why every serious Democratic candidate for president supports mandatory sentencing and welfare reform, why the cultural capitals of Hollywood and Manhattan remain the exception and why the much disdained "flyover" land that lies between them is the rule.

Unfortunately, we in Rhode Island are along the margins, so to speak, of this political divide. Here, where we have 100,000 Government Union members, approximately 10% of the total population (and around 20% of the work force, I would gather), the idea of this state massively shifting "conservative" any time soon seems like a fantasy. But we still try. At least I can take heart in that I am closer aligned to the average American than my "comrades" here in the PRoRI (Peoples Republic of Rhoded Island).

Friday, June 11, 2004

President Reagan's Inscription

This is the inscription on Ronald Reagan's Burial Crypt:

"I know that in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph and there is purpose and worth to each and every life."

We should all strive to be so optimistic.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Jonah Goldberg: Ronald Reagan was NOT a 'Pragmatist'

Jonah Goldberg is tired of hearing how Reagan was a pragmatist, sacrificing ideals for expediency. "Ideology, properly understood, is a checklist of priorities and principles. And conservative ideology explicitly accepts that compromise is part of life, since this world can never be made as perfect as the next. Reagan left this world better than he found it because he never stopped being an ideologue when it mattered."

If I get the time, I'll delve in deeper (a little note to self...)

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

William F. Buckley Jr. on Ronald Reagan

William F. Buckley Jr. offers up some "Little Memories" of President Reagan. My favorites:

"It was his job to introduce me, as the evening's speaker, to a group of California doctors. He acted like a gymnast out of Barnum and Bailey. The control room for the loudspeakers had been left locked. Nobody could find the janitor. So he cat-walked above the traffic to the window of the control room and smashed it open with his elbow, turning on the juice, the show must go on. Nice preview of Reagan, policymaker."

"He was opposed to ratifying the Panama Canal Treaty, and we debated the subject for two hours on television, each of us with illustrious assistants. We punched each other pretty hard. A couple of months later I was scheduled for dinner at his home in Bel Air. He got me on the telephone: 'Drive slowly up the drive, real slow.' I did — and came upon, every twenty yards, huge hand-drawn signs: 'WE BUILT IT.' 'WE PAID FOR IT.' 'IT'S OURS!'"

"I had written him during the campaign that I didn't want a job. He answered back that he was disappointed: 'I've had it in mind to appoint you ambassador to Afghanistan.' Big joke, the Soviet Union having just taken over there. But in correspondence thereafter he always referred to me as 'Mr. Ambassador,' and the week before leaving the White House he wrote to commend me on the Soviet withdrawal — 'and you did it,' he wrote, 'without leaving Kabul for a minute.' Good-humored fantasies played long with Ronald Reagan."

Ronald Reagan - Speeches

Here are the most popular Ronald Reagan Speeches, including his "A Time for Choosing" which really put him on the map. One can't read it and not be struck with how, 40 years later, his descriptions of the nature and results of liberal policies have been born out.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Peggy Noonan on Ronald Reagan

I have been holding off on extensive commentary on the death of Ronald Reagan for one reason: I figured Peggy Noonan would do it a lot better, and she has. An excerpt:
In his presidency he did this: He out-argued communism and refused to accept its claim of moral superiority; he rallied the West, rallied America and continued to make big gambles, including a defense-spending increase in a recession. He promised he'd place Pershings in Europe if the Soviets would not agree to arms reductions, and told Soviet leaders that they'd never be able to beat us in defense, that we'd spend them into the ground. They were suddenly reasonable.
Ronald Reagan told the truth to a world made weary by lies. He believed truth was the only platform on which a better future could be built. He shocked the world when he called the Soviet Union "evil," because it was, and an "empire," because it was that, too. He never stopped bringing his message to the people of the world, to Europe and China and in the end the Soviet Union. And when it was over, the Berlin Wall had been turned into a million concrete souvenirs, and Soviet communism had fallen. But of course it didn't fall. It was pushed. By Mr. Know Nothing Cowboy Gunslinger Dimwit. All presidents should be so stupid.

He pushed down income taxes too, from a high of 70% when he entered the White House to a new low of 28% when he left, igniting the long boom that, for all its ups and downs, is with us still. He believed, as JFK did, that a rising tide lifts all boats. He did much more, returning respect to our armed forces, changing 50-year-old assumptions about the place of government and the place of the citizen in the new America.

What an era his was. What a life he lived. He changed history for the better and was modest about it. He didn't bray about his accomplishments but saw them as the work of the American people. He did not see himself as entitled, never demanded respect, preferred talking to hotel doormen rather than State Department functionaries because he thought the doormen brighter and more interesting. When I pressed him once, a few years out of the presidency, to say what he thought the meaning of his presidency was, he answered, reluctantly, that it might be fairly said that he "advanced the boundaries of freedom in a world more at peace with itself." And so he did. And what could be bigger than that?

And now he has left us. We will talk the next 10 days about who he was and what he did. It's not hard to imagine him now in a place where his powers have been returned to him and he's himself again--sweet-hearted, tough, funny, optimistic and very brave. You imagine him snapping one of those little salutes as he turns to say goodbye. Today I imagine saluting right back. Do you? We should do it the day he's buried, or when he lies in state in the Capitol Rotunda. We should say, "Good on you, Dutch." Thanks from a grateful country.

Working toward a "big" theory

Justin Katz just concluded a spate of posts that he believes are all, somehow, related. I detected a few themes that run through various sets of posts, but a comment posted by Ben Bateman to Justin's "Reaching Those Who Can Be Reached" post caught my eye. Bateman's description of the Liberal/Conservative "talking past each other" phenomenom is good and his analysis insightful.

According to Bateman:
The communication gap runs deeper than most conservatives realize. The gap between right and left has grown to the point that they’re effectively separate cultures. The problem is not just that right and left begin the discussion with different premises and arguments. Right and left don’t even agree on how the discussion itself should work.

Bateman then explained that Western Culture assumes that objective truth exists "and every reasonable person’s goal is to act in accordance with it." Unfortunately, it is difficult to agree on "truth" and we rely on dialogue to try to arrive at an agreement as to what is the truth. This often involves one side or the other, or both, acknowledging when they are wrong as the point isn't necessarily to win the debate as it is to arrive at the truth of the matter. Bateman points out that
This idea of intellectual discourse is one of the proudest achievements of Western Culture. It’s so axiomatic to conservatives that they have trouble imagining how anyone could reject it. Yet it’s almost unique to Western Culture. Most cultures do not share it. They believe that the side with more power will—and should—prevail in a dispute.

Batemen then mentions something with which I am familiar: for the last 30 or 40 years, it has been the cause of many in academia to proclaim that there is no such thing as objective truth.

Prior to this movement, the last great historical theory was the so-called Progressive theory which basically said that, overall, things are getting better for humanity. Other theories arose to counter this. The idealists, Marxism (in the historical sense) and finally Post-modernism. This last took what appeared to be the last, best shot at the Progressive theory. Post-modernists asked the simple question "For Who is it getting better?"

Where did this movement come from? Post modernists hitched their wagon to a literary criticicism movement that said that the words that make up literature, that tell a story and set it in context, can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways. In short, the literary critic wasn't limited to what the author seemed to obviously mean. Under this theory, since words didn't necessarily really mean what they seemed to mean, one could interpret essentially anything they wanted from any literary passage. Obviously, the critics own agenda had a great deal to do with the interpretation derived. The post-modern historians applied this to the lifeblood of their craft, the written primary source, and concluded that, similar to any novel, "so-called" historical fact could be interpreted any number of ways. Thus, truth was relative and post-modern historians proceeded to "reinterpret" history with their new paradigm. What they actually attempted to do was to rewrite history. Tiime-honored concepts were attacked. Along the way, they sullied the name and reputation of that essential aspect of history, revisionism. Revisionism in the field of history is meant to describe a method by which new findings or sources are applied to old problems in an attempt to clarify or elaborate. Sometimes fundamental interpretations are change. This is all done in the hope of acquiring historical truth. Unfortunately, post-modern historians had no truth, only that which they could interpret. Thus, their form of revision came to be associated with all historical revision.

Bateman seems to mistakenly associate all academics with these post modernists. His conflation is understandable if not entirely accurate. However, he is correct when he says that these "illuminati" have convinced a great many Americans that truth is relative. Finally, there is a massive internal inconsistency with this methodology. It can be summed up simply: To believe means to think something is true; to say, 'It's true that nothing is true' is thus contradictory, further, the statement, "There is no absolute truth" is postulated as an absolute truth!

Thus far, this is all well-trodden dialectic, but then Bateman puts forth, to me, a most intuitive observation that to postmodernists, or liberals, "everything is about power, including conversation." It follows that,
Most liberals don’t consciously agree that there is no such thing as truth, but they often believe it subconsciously or hold views that amount to the same thing: Truth is defined by whoever has the power; truth exists but we can’t know anything about it; truth exists but it’s different for each person; or truth exists but it doesn’t matter in a moral sense. These and many variants amount to the proposition that truth doesn’t exist.

This idea of Truth = Power reminded me of something. The historian Bernard Bailyn based much of his theory on the origins of the American Revolution (eloquently stated in his Ideological Origins of the American Revolution) as a war between Power and Liberty. The founders believed that these two entities were naturally opposed to each other. They believed that the more power granted to anything; the President, Congress, the police, the military, the less liberty that will be enjoyed by all. The old cliche "The Truth will set you Free" leads me to believe that Truth = Freedom. Since Freedom is essentially liberty, could we then conclude that the old problem defined by the founders, Liberty vs. Power could be restated as Truth vs. Power? If Bateman is correct, and liberals equate Truth with Power, we now have a Truth vs. Truth battle. Thus, the debate is over our truth versus their truth. The importance they put on winning is understandable when one remembers the old axiom "history is written by the winner". If most of those who write and pontificate, via the media or academia, are allowed to prevail, their truth will indeed become so, regardless of its own veracity.

Bateman seems pessimistic about the likelihood that conservatives and liberals will be able to engage in enlightened debate. He may be right, but perhaps we shouldn't worry about this. One of my previous posts dealt partially with this subject. In short, the left has been losing its ability to debate. That their own success within the media and academia has been so overwhelming, they have nearly shut out opposing views. This has been to their detriment. Conservatives have had to hone their arguments in the attempt to persuade, liberals have not because they are all talking to each other. They have grown ideologically lazy, and, according to Peggy Noonan, "They often seem to fall back on attitude--wit, irony, poking fun at the thick-witted--in place of sustained thought, or meaning." If this continues, conservatives and liberals will continue to talk past each other. If it is true that Power equals Truth, then it would behoove us to gain and maintain power, wouldn't it? By this I don't mean political or ideological power, instead, I mean the power of our method of dialogue. By listening to talk radio, watching Fox News, or frequenting the internet we help each other hone our arguments and hopefully persuade a greater number of Americans that words and thinking are important. As a byproduct, we hopefully weaken the standing of those to whom truth is relative.

Ronald Reagan was derided for calling the Soviet Union the "Evil Empire" and for his supposedly simplistic views. History has shown that he was right. He believed in the inherent, God-given right of all to be free. He believed this in various milieu's; politically, in the free market, freedom for people to keep what they earned. These were some of Ronald Reagan's fundamental truths. If truth means "correct", tell me now, do you think that truth is relative?

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Hanson on Iraq

VDH is at it again with a fine perspective focusing column on Iraq here. His conclusion: "Historic forces of the ages are in play. If we can just keep our sanity a while longer, accept our undeniable mistakes, learn from them, and press on, Iraq really will emerge as the constitutional antithesis of Saddam Hussein, and that will be a good and noble thing - impossible without America and its most amazing military."

Friday, June 04, 2004

Losing the Perspective

Rush Limbaugh has been talking about an article in Life magazine written in 1946 about how the United States was losing the peace in Europe after World War II. I made reference to this same piece back in October of 2003. Rush's attention, via F. Lee Levin, prompted me to give a couple excerpts . . . tell me if these sound familiar.

"Friend and foe alike, look you accusingly in the face and tell you how bitterly they are disappointed in you as an American."

"Never has American prestige in Europe been lower. People never tire of telling you of the ignorance and rowdy-ism of American troops, of misunderstanding of European conditions."

"'Have you no statesmen in America?' they [the Europeans] ask."

The greater benefit of reading the piece is in gaining an appreciation of the fact that the situation in Iraq is not, historically speaking, unique nor particularly horrible or tragic. The aftermath of war is messy. Idealistic plans formed in the vacuum of a war room yield to pragmatic solutions evolved from realities in the fray. People must adjust to these new realities. None of this is new and it should not have been considered abnormal that things haven't gone perfect in Iraq. There are legitimat points to debate: the use of force in Fallujah, the dealings with Al-Sadr, letting the Iraqi army disappear, allowing the looting, etc. Lessons can be learned from these particular instances and from the reaction that our responses to these "crises" have ellicited among the Iraqis. We did not really know that much about Iraqi, indeed Arab, society: they do not, as of yet, know much about ours. We are still learning about each other and how together we can make things work in this particular moment in history.

However, some simply revel in second-guessing for short term political gain. They seize on every small flare up as proof that we are doomed to failure. They hope to portray failure in Iraq as indicative of the general ineptitude of the President. All to win an election. Others seize on these same instances for more philosophic reasons. They have travelled so far down the path of rejecting American exceptionalism, or even the less tendentious theory that America is a force for good in the world, that they are willing to go to any length to portray America as a capitalist empire, or some such, all to prove that their warnings of "quagmire" and "empire" and "blood for oil" should have been heeded.

The media and much of the elite academics did not want this war. They view war throught lens of Vietnam and can conceive of nothing good to be gained from war. They hold rhetoric dear and can conceive of no situation in which force is necessary. Failure to persuade is never the fault of the intransigent antagonist, it is always the failure of wronged protagonist. Deep in their hearts, they hope for failure in Iraq so that they can say "I told you so."

History shows that the aftermath of war is messy. It also shows that there have always been those who have second-guessed both the righteousness of the cause and the methods employed by the victors. Most importantly, history gets it right, and history will show that America won a just war and helped a people who had been oppressed, in one form or another for 4,000 years, gain the freedom to determine their own fate.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Keegan, Johnson and Noonan on Journalism and War

Respected historian John Keegan (link to a May 2000 Interview) says that "History tells us that most conflicts end in chaos" and that the media should know better. Keegan writes that he "[has] been a dedicated history boy for 50 years but these past few months I have begun to wonder if history is any use at all. Britain and the United States have got into a difficult situation in Iraq and the entire Western media are reacting as if an unprecedented disaster is about to overwhelm their armed forces and governments." Accordingly, to the media, "Iraq is a mess that should never have been allowed to happen. Yet media people are precisely the sort who know perfectly well that wars usually end in a mess."

How does Keegan come to this conclusion? He rightly points out that many in the media are trained in history and "have been trained to perceive reasons why some wars end neatly and others do not." Perhaps, but as Peggy Noonan pointed out in her most recent column, perhaps those graduating, at least from Ivy Leagues schools, aren't as trained in critical thought as we as a society would hope. She has asked several of them what their plans are after school and she says that she is "repeatedly told things like, 'I want to go into TV.' And 'I'm going to drama school.' And 'I'm going to journalism school.'" This leaves Noonan to conclude "that all young people who graduate from elite American universities now want to go into communications. It's a whole generation that wants to communicate."

Unfortunately, most don't know what they want to say. Noonan posits that this is because effective communication derives from holding "Deeply Held Beliefs" and, as she and the rest of us can gather, "the deeply held beliefs of these particular graduates is a uniform leftism whose tenets involve reciting clichés. They believe racial and sexual diversity is good, peace is better than war, religious fanaticism is bad." The problem for these new graduates is that, while they are aware that spouting tired clichés won't set them apart and get them noticed, they don't have the means, the intellectual or critical training, to question the "liberal orthodoxy" they were taught in academia. All of their training has been one-sided. Conservativism and tradition have been chastised, belittled and demonized. How could any thinking individual even consider them?

The fallout from such one-sided indoctrination has handicapped their ability to debate and defend their beliefs. They had no reason to hone these skills defending their liberal beliefs because their beliefs were never challenged in their training. As such, according to Noonan, "They often seem to fall back on attitude--wit, irony, poking fun at the thick-witted--in place of sustained thought, or meaning." Any observer of pop culture can think of instances where substantive argument has been seemingly trumped by pithy sarcasm (the failed talk show by Bill Maher was a nightly exercise in this type of "debate"). As Noonan says, "They are trained in the finest points of communication, but when they turn on the microphone, they have nothing serious to say."

This lack of intellectual flexibility has left us with a media dominated by those who revel in social and moral relativism, at least when it aligns with their liberal values. Yet, they can't look at contemporary situations relative to those of similar factors in history. As Keegan writes, "History boys can explain easily - and convincingly - why some wars, as that against Germany in 1945, end in unopposed occupation of enemy territory and why others, as in Iraq in 1920 and 2004, do not. In the first case, the defeated nation has exhausted itself in the struggle and is dependent on the victor both for necessities and for protection against further disaster - social revolution or aggression by another enemy. In the second case, the war has not done much harm but has broken the power of the state and encouraged the dispossessed and the irresponsible to grab what they can before order is fully restored."

Too many in the media have lost, or ignore, an ability to apply proper, contextual, historical perspective. In the case of Iraq, the media has focused "on the activity of small, localised minorities struggling to entrench themselves before full peace is imposed and an effective state structure is restored." This is essentially crime reporting and it is repetitive and skews perspective, focusing on "disorder in Najaf and Fallujah, misbehaviour by a tiny handful of US Army reservists - not properly trained regular soldiers - in one prison." But what of the other 8,000 towns and villages in Iraq? Or Kurdistan where democracy and peace are the norm? I realize that "if it bleeds, it leads" is a long-recognized philosophy in the news media. Yet, while a local newscast may lead with a horrific crime, at least one puffy, human interest, feel good story is included at the end of the broadcast or on page A20 of the newspaper. Not so with regards to Iraq and the major media. Instead, it has been left to the internet, particularly the blogoshpere, to get the good news out.

Keegan particularly chastises BBC news anchor John Snow. "I do not know whether Jon Snow is a history boy who has decided to suppress what he knows in favour of his commitment to drama studies. I do know that he, and the serried ranks of self-appointed strategic commentators who currently dominate the written and visual media's treatment of the Iraq story, have a duty to stop indulging their emotions and start remembering a bit of post-war history. Iraq 2004 is not Greece 1945, not Indochina 1946-54, not Algeria 1953-62 and certainly not 'Vietnam'."

Keegan then asks a simple question: "If those who show themselves so eager to denounce the American President and the British Prime Minister feel strongly enough on the issue, please will they explain their reasons for wishing that Saddam Hussein should still be in power in Baghdad?" They can't.

Paul Johnson's piece on D-Day in the Wall Street Journal provides some additional perspective. "Unlike Montgomery in 1944, who never underestimated the German genius for counterattack, and made provision against it, the allies [The U.S., Great Britain, et al] this time did not study and prepare for the peculiar Arab genius for counterattack, which is to carry out prolonged and vicious guerilla warfare, completely disregarding human life, including their own. Moreover they did not study and prepare for the difficulties of meeting this form of counterattack against the political background of a free society at home, reacting nightly to what it sees on TV, and reading highly critical reports from the front written by journalists who have their own opinions and agendas and feel under no obligation to pursue the war (and peace) aims of the allied commanders. Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair are currently suffering from their lack of provision and foresight." In this last, Johnson is correct, but now it is a lesson learned. Nonetheless, Johnson believes that, "Given patience and determination, all will be well in time: Democracy and the rule of law will grow in the Middle East, and the roots of terrorism will be destroyed."

Finally, Johnson believes that "we are learning, once again, that the lessons history has to teach are inexhaustible and that statesmen should never plunge into the future, as we did in Iraq, without first examining what guidance the past could supply." Perhaps Bush and Blair and their administrations did not properly learn from history and failed to properly predict the course of events. Unfortunately, Johnson puts too much stock in the predictive nature of history. History shows us that there are always surprises in war and it prepares us for the possibilities, but it can't predict for sure what will happen.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Real Economics versus the Casino Option

Robert Kerr, vice president for performance excellence and corporate quality at Taco Inc., in Cranston has written in today's ProJo about the false promise of a casino. He points out that too few are aware of Adam Smith's monumental work, "Wealth of Nations" and the basic economic principles it describes. In short, according to Kerr:
We must first understand that all types of commercial enterprise may be arranged on a continuum, according to the enterprise's relative contribution to the community. Smith described this contribution to the community -- "the wealth of nations" -- as the "mutual and reciprocal gain" that results from the division of labor applied to the conversion of raw materials into goods for sale.

Over the years since Smith, the conversion of raw materials -- otherwise known as manufacturing -- has been extended to include other value-added activities, such as personal and financial services, education, health care, and so forth.

The relative contribution to society of each of these types of enterprise is determined by how many times the same unit of money is "turned over" in order to make or deliver the product or service. This multiplier has greater or lesser effect on the economy depending on the type of product or service.

For example, in the manufacture of hard goods, the entrepreneur must buy raw materials from another entrepreneur, who in turn must buy raw materials from another . . . going back to the raw materials' being dug from the earth, raised from the sea, or grown on a farm.

Service enterprises also require raw materials, though never in the quantities required by manufacturing.

Similarly, the labor used to make or deliver the product or service carries with it a multiplier based on the resources the laborer needs to buy in order to do his or her job. For example, a worker with children needs to buy day care. And a worker who lives at a distance from the job needs to buy transportation.

Typically, the multiplier associated with manufacturing is seven times the gross sales. It is the largest of all the enterprise multipliers.

On the opposite end of the economic scale is casino gambling. Because of the relatively low overhead required to operate a casino and the enormous potential profit, this form of enterprise possesses essentially a negative multiplier: It sucks money out of the economy, because most of the money spent in a casino is not spent again by the casino to buy materials or labor; it is taken away by the casino operator as profit (emphasis mine).

While it is true that building a casino creates jobs, construction jobs are temporary and casino-job salaries never amount to more than a small percentage of the gross sales. Remember, too, that all this expense over the long term is far less than the profits taken out of the economy by the casino operator. The multiplier remains negative.

Particularly troubling is that, here in Rhode Island, "we consume more than we produce" and "more and more Rhode Islanders seek relief and support from the state, or the lifetime security of state employment. And too many of our politicians are corrupt, too many of our institutions burdened by a legacy of unethical behavior." As such, this state is especially receptive, and vulnerable, to the seemingly easy money earned by a casino. The most attractive argument seems to be over the proportion of revenue that would go to the STATE. This shows the degree to which it is accepted that, here in Rhode Island, the State Government is viewed as the ultimate purveyor of wealth. In contrast, again from Kerr:
Our corporate wealth as a state would be better spent in building needed infrastructure, supporting manufacturing, and reducing the overall cost of doing business in Rhode Island. An economy, never mind a state, too dependent on self-absorbing ventures like casino gambling cannot prosper.

We must tell our legislators in loud and certain terms that gambling, along with being a dangerous amusement, removes value from our economy.

Investment in manufacturing creates good jobs and puts a steady stream of money into our economy. Manufacturing activity develops the economy through supply of the greatest multiplier of all known enterprises. By contrast, gambling is a tax on the naive and the addicted -- a tax most of whose revenue goes to the casino owners, not to the local economy.

Kerr's definition of manufacturing is more inclusive than the traditional, but his point is valid. Unfortunately, it is simply easier to set up a gambling house, pay lip service to the "jobs" and "revenue" memes and go on our merry way. It is much tougher to develop the infrastructure necessary to create a pro-business environment.

This ties in with Edward Achorn's piece, also in today's ProJo, on 'Tax Hell Rhode Island'. Citing a report from the June 2004 issue of the Bloomberg Wealth Manager that ranks Rhode Island 51st out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia "for people who wish to keep some of their wealth." According to Achorn:
The Bloomberg study is more evidence, if you needed any, of the rape of Rhode Island by politicians who are either too small-minded or too uninterested in the public's welfare to consider what they are doing to the people they supposedly serve.

We all know the classic class-warfare line. The wealthy? To heck with them! Let them pay higher taxes so that middle-class public employees can make out like bandits. And why would we ever consider cutting rich people's taxes when the state is facing huge deficits? After all, the poor and the children will suffer if we restrain government (i.e., by reducing public-employee jobs or curbing their benefits).

There's one problem with Rhode Island's class-warfare approach: People in this country are free to move around and pursue their economic self-interest. Which is why there is a market for publications like Bloomberg Wealth Manager.

Consider what the magazine discovered ("Ride the Wave," by Janet Bamford and Thomas D. Saler) by running state and local tax forms through Quicken's Turbo Tax program. A hypothetical well-to-do family, under one calculation, would pay $7,259 in taxes in Wyoming; the same family would pay $56,419 in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island's reliance on class warfare and setting up government as the biggest "business" in the State has had dire effects in attempts to keep the wealthy or upper-middle class (the typical small business owners and corporate decision makers) in the State . According to Achorn:
At some point, well-to-do people make . . . calculations. And when a state is described nationally (and internationally) as "tax-hell Rhode Island," they know to steer cleer.

So who needs upper-middle-class people? To heck with them.

Except: They do contribute something to a community. Let us count the ways:

Jobs. Corporations tend to be where executives want to live. The beauty of Rhode Island, its superb quality of life and its proximity to New York and Boston would surely draw them to the Ocean State -- if not for its tax burden. Why would they throw away money to live here, when they could make a better life for themselves and their families somewhere else?

Charity. Well-to-do people are the lifeblood of community institutions, including charities and arts and civic organizations.

Taxes. It's better to get something from wealthy people than to drive them away and get nothing. A vibrant economy would generate many more tax dollars to pay for education, road and bridge repairs, health care -- the lot.

Civic culture. Corporate executives tend to demand better services from local government, and their presence on local boards can lift the standards of excellence, particularly in public education, an area in which Rhode Island has been performing poorly.

Families. Rhode Island does a good job of splitting apart loved ones. Because its tax and regulatory structure chokes off new jobs, children often must move out of state for work. And because it is one of the worst places for retirees, elders often move far away, taking their spending power with them.

Rhode Island, in trying to punish the wealthy, has only ended up punishing its middle-class and poor citizens.

And yet, many think a casino will solve many of the state's financial problems. It is this inability to see past short term gain (from casino "revue") and a related lack of interest in trying to address the basic infrastructure problems that leave Rhode Island far behind in the national economy. As Kerr explained, manufacturing businesses (as he broadly defined them) will go much farther in contributing to the economy than a casino. While most of the casino's money goes to the government and the casino company, manufacturing jobs more positively affect a wider range of people. Big companies beget smaller companies. All beget employees, across a wide salary range, who will live, work and play in the state. More stable revenue will be generated. Most importantly, more will feel they are stakeholders in the future of the state. However, if the citizens of this state continue to elect the usual suspects, continue to wish they had a State job instead of fight the excesses of those same jobs, and persist in viewing the State as a benefactor and not a leach, nothing can be accomplished. If this attitude persists, Rhode Island will continue to maintain its position as the worst state for wealth retention in the United States and those who have tried to make a difference will simply leave her to her fate.

A new Rule Set for War on Terror

I caught a great interview over the weekend on CSPANs Booknotes program with Thomas Barnett, author of The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century. He is head of the NewRuleSets project at the Navy War College here in the Ocean State. The concept has been kicking around for a couple years and has been mentioned before in other places.

The interview can be seen here. And an article on the same subject published in Esquire magazine can be seen here.

Here is the introduction to the abovementioned Esquire piece:
Let me tell you why military engagement with Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad is not only necessary and inevitable, but good.

When the United States finally goes to war again in the Persian Gulf, it will not constitute a settling of old scores, or just an enforced disarmament of illegal weapons, or a distraction in the war on terror. Our next war in the Gulf will mark a historical tipping point—the moment when Washington takes real ownership of strategic security in the age of globalization.

That is why the public debate about this war has been so important: It forces Americans to come to terms with I believe is the new security paradigm that shapes this age, namely, Disconnectedness defines danger. Saddam Hussein’s outlaw regime is dangerously disconnected from the globalizing world, from its rule sets, its norms, and all the ties that bind countries together in mutually assured dependence.

The problem with most discussion of globalization is that too many experts treat it as a binary outcome: Either it is great and sweeping the planet, or it is horrid and failing humanity everywhere. Neither view really works, because globalization as a historical process is simply too big and too complex for such summary judgments. Instead, this new world must be defined by where globalization has truly taken root and where it has not.

Show me where globalization is thick with network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows, and collective security, and I will show you regions featuring stable governments, rising standards of living, and more deaths by suicide than murder. These parts of the world I call the Functioning Core, or Core. But show me where globalization is thinning or just plain absent, and I will show you regions plagued by politically repressive regimes, widespread poverty and disease, routine mass murder, and—most important—the chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation of global terrorists. These parts of the world I call the Non-Integrating Gap, or Gap.

Globalization’s “ozone hole” may have been out of sight and out of mind prior to September 11, 2001, but it has been hard to miss ever since. And measuring the reach of globalization is not an academic exercise to an eighteen-year-old marine sinking tent poles on its far side. So where do we schedule the U.S. military’s next round of away games? The pattern that has emerged since the end of the cold war suggests a simple answer: in the Gap.

The reason I support going to war in Iraq is not simply that Saddam is a cutthroat Stalinist willing to kill anyone to stay in power, nor because that regime has clearly supported terrorist networks over the years. The real reason I support a war like this is that the resulting long-term military commitment will finally force America to deal with the entire Gap as a strategic threat environment.

By the way, Barnett is a lifelong Democrat who stated in the interview with CSPAN that sometimes the good of the nation has to be considered before short-term political gain. Indeed.