Right Question

Asking the right question is usually more productive than trying to prove the right answer.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Poland Sees the Right

“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

—Winston Churchill

Our staunch European ally Poland now seems poised to rediscover the blessings of liberty for herself. The ruling ex-communist groups have been voted out and replaced with two center-right parties one dedicated to tax-cuts and creating a welfare state (that that's center-right in Poland tells you much about the political spectrum there) and the other a pro-business free-market party.

Of course, as the BBC reports, every time they've gone to the polls, the Poles have tossed out whoever was in power -- so we'll have to see whether this newly forming coalition government can finally satisfy the Polish people. With unemployment pushing 18% in the wake of (ex-)communist economic theory, they seem likely to have a good shot at this. So raise a glass and join me in wishing our Polish friends well -- Na zdrowie!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Conservative Approach to Poverty

For as long as I can remember, the Democratic Party has claimed that Republicans don't care about the poor. For as long as I can remember, the Democratic Party has offered no new ideas to help the poor. For as long as I can remember, the Democratic Party has gone to the mattresses to stall, stop or sabotage any new conservative idea to help the poor.

In the wake of his recent address on rebuilding New Orleans and the rest of the recently storm-ravaged region, the President has received a great deal of criticism for his proposals of huge new spending programs. Others have noted that his proposals uniformly represent conservative free-market approaches to rebuilding and helping people -- not the "do-nothing' proposals of the Democratic Party's strawman of conservatism, but real conservative solutions that really work. Want to increase employment -- let the market, not bureaucrats, dictate wages; want to stimulate business in a depressed region -- provide tax incentives to all businesses in the region, not grants to businesses which grease the right palms; want to improve education for our children -- set standards, provide financial rewards for exceeding them, and let private industry do what it does best.

Pundits and opinion bloggers from the left seem to have caught on. Today's Washington Post editorializes: "there is also talk -- still vague -- of spending $7,500 per displaced student, regardless of whether they choose public or private education. ... Any "emergency" bill that has the potential to turn into a long-term federal subsidy for private schools must be quashed." And blogger Josh Marshall's lastest crusade is against what he calls the President's "Wage Cut" proposal -- his insistence that the construction companies restoring the region's devastated infrastructure pay wages the market will bear, rather than the inflated wages demanded by unions.

At some level, these arguments sound right. We certainly shouldn't be using a national tragedy to gain traction for partisan political programs. However, this argument (or insinuation, perhaps, since it's not explicitly stated) gets it completely wrong.

Conservatives have known for some time that there were better ways to help people than the often very poorly-thought-out programs of the ironically named "Great Society". And we should not now, when people require our help, consider it a virtue to give them the foolish and counterproductive "help" which the government has given them time and time again in the past. It is morally incumbent upon us to help those who need our help in the best way that we know how. That the Washington Post can both acknowledge that vouchers may indeed be the best way to help Katrina victims with their educational needs and at the same time demand that we not do it, because of the risk that this superior program might also be provided to other Americans in need, should be seen as a strong hint that it's not the Republicans proposing this that are allowing partisanship to taint their response to the hurricane.

FDR and LBJ each instituted enormous changes in the way our government interacts with those who need help. Some of those programs were successes and others were failures. It's time for GWB to add his name to that list -- and demonstrate conclusively how the free market can strengthen any government program: partial privatization of Social Security, tax cuts to spur local entrepreneurship, relaxing some of the more harmful employment requirements to spur employment, giving support money directly to individuals in the form of "vouchers" for job training and medical costs and education, empowering individuals as consumers with a choice rather than as passive "beneficiaries" of large, ineffective government bureaucracies. As some, or perhaps all, of these proposals prove themselves with the recovering victims of Katrina, perhaps we will see more people in need reacting like these (hat tip: Michelle Malkin) and demanding similar effective programs for themselves.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Possibly the Best Take Yet on the Roberts Hearings


More: Here.
and: Here.

No Wonder Hanoi Jane Loved This Guy...

Hugh Hewitt at Radio Blogger is covering Ted Turner's interview (by Wolf Blitzer) about his latest visit to North Korea: here.

Some highlights:
  • "I am absolutely convinced that the North Koreans are absolutely sincere. There's really no reason for them to cheat or do anything to violate this very forward agreement."
  • WB: But this is one of the most despotic regimes, and Kim Jung Il is one of the worst men on Earth... TT: ...he didn't look too much different than most of the other people I've met.
  • WB: But look at the way he's treating his own people. TT: Well, hey. Listen, I saw a lot of people over there. They were thin, and they were riding bicycles instead of driving in cars.

There were other revelatory remarks, like when Wolf Blitzer mentioned the million North Korean soldiers on the DMZ, Ted Turner corrected him that there were only half a million troops -- ours. And he blamed us for keeping them there in an unproductive job when they could be doing things like building hospitals. Wolf Blitzer asked about Kim's missiles. Ted Turner responded that they couldn't hit the U.S. and dismissed as unimportant their ability to attack our allies in Japan and South Korea. And he concluded by insisting that any "facts" Blitzer thought he knew were irrelevant because he'd never personally been permitted to enter North Korea. And his "then go there on vacation" response to Blitzer's claim that NoKo had always refused his requests to visit has to rank up there with "let them eat cake" in the not-getting-the-problem category. But by far the most insane line was this:

Praising a genocidal dictator for the fact that his people (who are being systematically starved to death) are so thin, unlike our own car-and-obesity epidemic. I haven't the words.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Washington Post Favors of Voter Fraud.

Is there another explanation for today's editorial?

A bipartisan commission finally has its recommendations for reducing voter fraud -- mostly by rationalizing voter lists at the state level and requiring photo ID at the polls, while making photo IDs available at taxpayer expense for those without a drivers license.

The requirement that voters present identification is opposed by the post because, in their own words: "For those who don't already have identification, the hurdle of assembling the necessary documentation and obtaining the cards could prove a deterrent to voting."

That's it. That's the entire argument. Seriously.

There are some other bits about "we should do this too..." and "here are some things we agreed with..." along with a some "we don't think that kind of voter fraud is so bad..." but otherwise, that one sentence is the whole actual argument for what would be bad about asking the people who show up at the polls and cast votes to present an ID.

Some people might not be willing to bother to vote.

How confident are we that a citizen who can't be bothered to pick up a free ID card will actually know the names of any of the candidates running for office?

Perhaps next week the Post will point out that we could encourage fuller participation if we didn't bother to ask voters their names when they arrive at the polls -- after all, more people might vote if they didn't have to bother registering.

Fun with Grammar...

A recent convoluted discussion reminded me of an odd line of thought from my college linguistic days.

In English, you can append an unlimited number of clauses to a sentence, resulting in the silly, but perfectly well formed, children's tale that started with "This is Jack." and added a clause on each subsequent page, ending with something like:
This is the dog that chased the cat that killed the mouse that ate the cheese that was dropped by the girl who lived in the house that Jack built.
Of course, there are several different ways to insert clauses, and some of them don't work quite as well as this. For example:
  1. This is Jack.
  2. This is the Jack-built house.
  3. This is the Jack-built-house-living girl.
and so on. But that's awkward even from the start. A more interesting version begins sounding reasonable, and but grows more and more difficult to parse with length:
  1. The man is named Jack.
  2. The man, by whom the dog was scolded, is named Jack.
  3. The man, by whom the dog, by whom the cat was chased, was scolded, is named Jack.
  4. The man, by whom the dog, by whom the cat, by whom the mouse was killed, was chased, was scolded, is named Jack.
  5. The man, by whom the dog, by whom the cat, by whom the mouse, by which the cheese was eaten, was killed, was chased, was scolded, is named Jack.
  6. The man, by whom the dog, by whom the cat, by whom the mouse, by which the cheese, which the girl dropped, was eaten, was killed, was chased, was scolded, is named Jack.
  7. The man, by whom the dog, by whom the cat, by whom the mouse, by which the cheese, which was the girl who lived in the house that Jack built dropped, was eaten, was killed, was chased, was scolded, is also named Jack.
What's interesting is that, spoken with the right intonation, the third sentence (with Jack, the dog and the cat) is perfectly straightforward, but the fourth sentence (with the addition of the mouse) is not.

Anyway, nothing to do with politics, just my random thought of the day.

All the Hypocrisies Fit to Print

A few days ago, the NYT published this editorial (one of the last to be freely available on their web site) calling on Senators to vote against Judge Roberts for Chief Justice. The piece was an amazing bit of sophistry, describing Judge Roberts in glowing terms: "Few lawyers in America can compete with Mr. Roberts in professional accomplishments."; "Mr. Roberts could be a superb chief justice." and "If the test were legal skill alone, Mr. Roberts would certainly pass."

My first response to this last line was to think that someone ought to look at what they had to say when Ruth Bader Ginsberg -- a great legal mind on the far other side of the ideological spectrum. Fortunately, it didn't take long for Matt Barr at New World Man to point out that that's exactly the standard the NYT considered relevant in 1993.

No wonder they are planning to hide their editorials behind a pay-per-view firewall.

UPDATE: James Taranto is, of course, all over this.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Are There No More Decent Democrats?

Just when Bill Clinton's been doing so well transitioning to the role of elder statesman... he violates generations of tradition to publicly tear into his successor, the current President Bush.

John Hinderaker at powerline does an excellent job of Fisking President Clinton's comments. I will add only this: How sour are those grapes, Mr. former President?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Has Iraq Really Made Us Look Weak??

I common "concern" I've been hearing from the left is that the "quagmire" we're now in, in Iraq, has made our military appear weak. One might reasonably respond that nothing could make us look weaker than the retreat from Somalia did, or that the dictators of Syria and Libya seem to have responded as though we appeared stronger, and I have.

The Academic Elephant points us in the direction of a much clearer and stronger rebuttal: this interview of a senior Chinese general, on what the lessons the Chinese military takes from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Short version: they're scared spitless.

Lt. Gen. Liu compares the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan with the American one: "Both the Soviet Union and the United States were superpowers, and when they fought wars with the same opponent, the results were totally different. The Soviet Union successively employed 1,500,000 troops in its war on Afghanistan, fighting mainly ground battles with that country for a decade, only to be defeated in the end, resulting in more than 50,000 casualties on the Soviet side. What was more, the power of the Soviet Union never recovered. While in the case of the recent war in Afghanistan, the US only employed a special force of 1000 some-odd troops—accompanied mainly by its air forces—and dismantled the Taliban forces in just 61 days, with only 16 deaths among the US troops (of whom none were killed in action)."

He is impressed with our advantages in military technology, but he is in awe of our ability to observe a need, invent new weapons systems, manufacture it en masse, and deploy them within a few months -- as with cave-busting "thermobaric" bombs in Afghanistan, and heavily up-armored transports to deal with IEDs in Iraq. In contrast, he points out that the Chinese military saw virtually no change in military technology between the Korean and Vietnamese wars.

He points out the extraordinarily rapid military progress the American military has seen in the last fifteen years: "In battle, a period of time was needed to complete the so-called attack chain, from discovering a target to conducting a precise attack on that particular target. And that process would have included the following steps: discovering, locating, targeting, attacking and operation evaluation. In the first Gulf War, the operation of such a “chain” took 100 minutes, while in the wars in Kosovo and Afghanistan, it took 40 and 20 minutes respectively. In the Iraqi War, it took just 10 minutes, thus nearly realizing the goal of “discovering means destroying”." The difference between this and the speed and mobility of any other military in the world is like the difference between German panzers in WWII facing horse-mounted riflemen in Belgium. And our Naval power is even more dominant.

At the end of the first section of the interview, General Liu comments: "Due to the poor performance of the Iraqi forces, the real war capacity of the US force was not fully manifested in the Iraqi War." and goes on to predict that within a generation, the U.S. will have easily conquered the world. While I don't think he's right about that -- it's hard to argue that he's feeling contempt for our military weakness.

His take on the military philosophical "debate" between Powell and Rumsfeld at the start of the Iraq War (and his unequivocal statement that the War proved Rumsfeld right) also make fascinating reading. He writes: "Rumsfeld’s victory was... also over Russian military theory. Facts proved that a more flexible military, though smaller in size, would absolutely defeat a huge army bugged by outdated concepts." and "Military observers in Russia exclaimed, “The military paradigm has been rewritten. Other countries had better notice that the US has rewritten the military textbook.”"

The whole piece is interesting reading on how Beijing's high command is thinking about potential future conflicts with the U.S.

One More Reason to Love Condi...

as if you needed another, after her NYT interview last week, is her quiet rejection of identity-politics.

Madeleine Albright, our first female Secretary of State, organized meetings of her female colleagues (female foreign ministers and secretaries of state) at international gatherings. According to Reuters, via the Washington Post, Condoleeza Rice has politely declined to attend the gathering tonight.

Given the high-level diplomatic presence from around the world in New York City this weekend, she apparently feels that there are more valuable uses of her time, such as working to strengthen the international consensus on nuclear weapons development in Iran. It's hard to imagine how anyone could disagree with her priorities.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

If even liberal columnists aren't listening to Democratic politicians...

... who is?

Washington Post op-ed columnist E.J. Dionne's latest installment calls on Senate Democrats to vote against John Roberts. The main thrust of the essay seems to be that esoteric questions of executive privilege during senatorial confirmations involving nominees who have worked in past administrations should be more important than, for example, the nominee's qualifications. But this transparent attempt to manufacture an excuse for Senate Democrats to vote against Roberts isn't what inspired me to respond.

At the start, Dionne quotes Senator Graham's response to some questioning by Senate Democrats, who seem to be saying that "the only way you can have a good heart is adopt my value system." Dionne dismisses this critique with a simple: " the doubts about Roberts have nothing to do with his good heart." -- which begs the question, "whose doubts are you referring to, Mr. Dionne?"

The Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Howard Dean, just the other day opined at length and in writing that the problem with Judge Roberts is that he has no compassion, no understanding, no mercy. The chief spokesman for the Democratic Party clearly states his doubts about Judge Roberts, and they are very much about his good heart.

But then, Howard Dean is not a senator. Perhaps Mr. Dionne is more interested in the doubts expressed by Democratic senators on the Committee on the Judiciary. For those who missed the hearings, a full transcript is available from the A.P.

On day four, as the Senators were essentially getting their final thoughts into the record, Senator Kennedy opined at length that the "law requires both a heart and a head. If you do not have a heart, it becomes a sterile set of rules removed from human problems and it will not help." and asked Judge Roberts what assurances he could provide that he wouldn't be like that.

After asking a few questions, Senator Schumer summarized his feelings at exhaustive length, first laying out the reasons to confirm Judge Roberts, and then the reasons to oppose him. He said, "Let me go to the con side here. First, is the question of compassion and humanity. I said on the first days of these hearings it's important to determine not just the quality of your mind but the fullness of your heart."

Senator Feinstein jumped in to turn Schumer's three 'cons' into a question: "I think that Senator Schumer really summed up the dilemmas. And not only he has them on our side... What kind of a justice would you be, John Roberts?"

On day three, Senator Durbin was quite straightforward about his doubts: "so frequently, when asked, you have said, appropriately, that you will be driven and inspired by the rule of law, which is an appropriate term, but a hard and cold term by itself. We know you have the great legal mind and have proven it with the questions here. But the questions that have been asked more and more today really want to know what's in your heart."

So, that's four of the eight Democratic Senators on the Committee directly expressing doubts about Judge Roberts' heart, and the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee stating quite clearly that he has none. In that context, it just seems bizarre for E.J. Dionne to write, "the doubts about Roberts have nothing to do with his good heart."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Howard Dean and the Politics of the Personal (Attack)

George W. Bush, despite his excellent speech writers, will not be remembered as a great orator. Fortunately, he has no competition. The chief spokesman for the Democratic Party, Howard Dean, seems constitutionally unable to open his mouth without sticking his foot in.

A few days ago, he discussed Hurricane Katrina and the Roberts confirmation hearings with Wolf Blitzer on CNN. The whole interview is worth reading (it's the last segment, down at the bottom -- find 'dnc' to jump right to it) -- Dean refuses to back off his suggestions that Bush's response was racially motivated, even when lobbed a softball on Kanye West, he responds: "No. I do not think that this president cares about everybody in America." Despite repeated questions from Blitzer, he refuses to assign any blame to the Governor or Mayor, and finally gets to the point of accusing Wolf Blitzer of applying a double standard (**). On Judge Roberts, Dean concludes with: "I know Judge Roberts loves the law. I'm not sure he loves the American people."

Today's message: Republicans don't care. Add this to his previous refrains: "I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for" and "This is a struggle of good and evil. And we're the good." (sadly, referring to Republicans, not Islamofascists)

One of the most frustrating things about the policy debate in this country right now is that only one side is showing up. For the Democrats, it's never about proposing a policy, it's about attacking a person. Howard Dean has become the personification of that problem. John Roberts doesn't have a different view of the Constitutional separation of powers -- he doesn't love the American people. John Ashcroft doesn't have different ideas of how to keep America safe, he's "not a patriot", "a descendant of Joe McCarthy". Republicans don't have different ideas for how to make America better -- they are evil and I hate them!

One of the fundamental reasons that Democracy works so well in producing sensible policies is that we have such a free-wheeling marketplace of ideas. The political parties are certainly not the only sources of these competing ideas -- but in the public policy sphere they are major ones. Reducing the public debate to the level of schoolyard taunts does America itself a great disservice. Last year, Jon Stewart made waves appearing on CNN's Crossfire and calling on the hosts to "stop hurting America" by reducing public policy debate to the level of pro-wrestling -- will no one stand up and say this to Howard Dean?

** I've come to believe that this is actually a deliberate rhetorical technique -- if you're in the middle of doing something egregious, like making political hay out of a natural disaster, you must immediately accuse the other side of doing exactly that, no matter how ridiculous you sound doing it. This will defuse the power of their counter-accusation, despite any evidence.

(9/16) UPDATE: Howard Dean has now fleshed out his critique of Roberts in this op-ed. The message: John Roberts has no compassion, mercy or understanding.

The Greatest Modern Benefactors of Mankind

In response to the recent political best-seller 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, a blogger-from-the-left recently posted on 1000 People Making the World a Better Place. This is a wonderful idea. But the more I read, the more I realized I wasn't going to like the list she was making -- high marks to activists protesting to get cheap AIDS drugs for the third world, but no credit to those who developed such drugs; high marks to Lance Armstrong for his inspirational victory over cancer, but no credit to the doctors who developed the drugs that made this possible; I could go on, but: Barbara Boxer, Michael Moore, and Cindy Sheehan really say it all.

Criteria and Eligibility -- It's tempting to limit the list to those alive and working right now, to avoid prolonged debates about whether Ghengis Khan should get credit for the Renaissance and Enlightenment (via opening the silk road to Marco Polo), and yet it's impossible to fairly judge how much future benefit will accrue from someone's actions now. Most public policy debates center around precisely this kind of disagreement, and there's no point in rehashing those here. So here are my (somewhat arbitrary) eligibility requirements: the work being credited must have taken place within the last fifty years, and not primarily within the last five. As to criteria, I'm looking for concrete benefits to mankind -- lives saved, people freed, disaster averted. And the benefit must already occurred (though it may be ongoing) and has to be demonstrably the consequence of the nominee's actions.

I open the floor to nominations of those producing such Great (concrete) Benefits to Mankind between 1955 and 2000.

A few nominees to "prime the pump":

  • Norman Borlaug- for improvements to wheat, primarily in the 1960's, saving hundreds of millions of people (at least) from starvation. Further reading: the Nobel Peace Prize, Reason Magazine, and his own Foundation.

  • Barnett Rosenberg- for the serendipitous (i.e. alert and diligent) discovery in 1965 of cis-platinum, perhaps the most successful chemotherapy drug in history; still saving many thousands of cancer victims every year in the U.S. alone. Further reading: American Urological Association.

  • Mikhail Gorbachev- for presiding over the fall of the Soviet Union without the massive explosion of violence which could easily have attended such an event.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

In Defense of Sean Penn

(or the post you never thought a conservative hawk would write.)

Sean Penn has been inserting himself into the national debate, again, by way of his ill-fated rescue efforts in New Orleans. The juggernauts of the right side of the blogosphere have been quick to mock - see John Hinderaker at Power Line, Michelle Malkin and Glen Reynolds of Instapundit. Mr. Penn's own words place his political views firmly in the camp of the actors of Team America's Film Actor's Guild, and yet his actions set him apart. Many of those around him rail against uncaring Republicans while sipping merlot on their multi-million dollar "ranches," claiming that it would be easy to save everyone, if W. would just make the effort. We can question his intelligence for buying into the sneering wisdom of his peers, but to his great credit, Sean Penn's first instinct is to jump in and do something.

Those who don't try
Never look foolish.
--from the musical, Wicked

Granted, Mr. Penn looks rather foolish, bailing out his boat with a red plastic mug. Sure, he brought a photographer. Sure his attempt to help was incredibly ill-conceived, ill-planned and poorly carried out... but it's still a thousand percent better than sitting on his couch b*tching about how other people are bungling the relief effort.

And who knows, perhaps he'll get back to his Hollywood mansion with a bit more respect for how well the rescue workers on the ground are actually doing in incredibly difficult circumstances.

* * *

Mr. Penn's trip to Iraq before the War received a great deal of attention, as did the New York Times ad he took out, in which to express his opposition to the War. His second visit to Iraq, a year later, deserves a closer look. Here's what he wrote about it for the San Francisco Chronicle. He does manage to credulously recycle nearly every canard of the anti-war left (depleted Uranium, troops targeting journalists and blood for oil) and yet, he writes things that most anti-war activists would recoil from in horror.

While others on the left pay lip-service to supporting the troops, while taunting them at their hospital beds, Penn seems to genuinely like them.
we spot U.S. soldiers guarding a sewage pumping station under repair. We approach on foot as a nearby school opens its doors for a lunch break and hundreds of children come out to engage the soldiers.

The commander of the unit is Lt. Col. Mark Coats. Coats' demeanor is confident and alert. He is accommodating of my request to photograph his soldiers and their interaction with the children. There is no question of politics here, and the warmth of these soldiers toward the children is genuine. I get the impression that such events occur daily here, and not only when journalists are present.

The sharp contrast between his imported view of the big picture and his first-hand experience of the small details is clear:
While many of the engagement policies and raid tactics of coalition forces are incendiary to the local population, the rank-and-file soldiers I meet behave with dignity and grace in their daily interactions with Iraqi people.

He visits a project compiling a list of Saddam's victims and writes:
It's a reminder that it wasn't only the Americans and coalition forces that "liberated" the country. There were tens of thousands of Iraqis who lost their lives opposing the regime as well.

Most tellingly, comparing his two visits, he writes:
They're used to war; they're used to gunshots. What's new is this tiny seed and taste of freedom. It is a compelling experience to have been in Baghdad just one year ago, where not a single Iraqi expressed to me opinions outside Baathist party lines, and just one year later, when so many express their opinions and so many opinions compete for attention. Where the debate is similar to that in the United States is over the way in which the business of war will administer the opportunity for peace and freedom, and the reasonable expectation of Iraqi self-rule.

Certainly Sean Penn is far to the left of mainstream America, but remember the examples of Bob Geldof and Bono. Because they actually devoted themselves to a real cause (rather than a superficial sentiment) -- and got directly involved with it, we now see them working together with President Bush on ameliorating African poverty, and discussing intelligent ways to deal with the problem without just throwing money at it. The difference between these two and the rest of the artists of Band Aid and We Are The World is not to be found in what they believed or even (at least, not in every case) in their relative intelligence -- but in what they were willing to do: to show up, see for themselves, and lend a hand.

Sean Penn may not be the brightest bulb, but his willingness to actually show up, see for himself, and lend a hand make it clear, he's really a Grey-tribe sheepdog at heart. Perhaps now we finally know what Madonna saw in him, all those years ago.

Contrarian Prediction of the Month

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and the horrific images of destruction, pessimistic predictions of the recovery and reconstruction are perhaps inevitable. (Though one would have hoped that national leaders might have refrained from suggesting that we not rebuild at least until after everyone is safe.)

I will make this prediction: Past Mardi Gras celebrations have brought as many as half a million tourists streaming into New Orleans for a long weekend. Next Mardi Gras -- February 28th, 2006, less than six months from now -- will be the largest in New Orleans history.

UPDATE: An army reservist returning from New Orleans makes more detailed but similarly optimistic predictions (via PoliPundit).