Towards A Good Samaritan World

Monday, July 31, 2006

MICKEY KAUS, THE TEMPTER

I used to like Mickey Kaus. But there was always a certain moral deficit about him, a certain cynicism which was humorous and charming but was, unfortunately, not just schtick. It took a little while to figure out that Kaus was razor-smart-- superficially, his writing consists of cleverisms which mask the underlying intelligence-- but his agenda remained a mystery.

It was very fun to have a self-proclaimed Democrat lampooning Kerry all through 2004. It's fun how he picks on the New York Times, and plays sensible-centrist gadfly to the pontifications and pieties of the liberal left. He achieves a certain credibility through his apparent flippancy: this guy's not spinning, you feel, because he's not serious; he doesn't care deeply enough about anything to be blinded by idiosyncratic yearnings and desires.

Which is why Kaus's stance on immigration is so startling. Kaus hems and haws and links, and rarely makes his position clear, but at bottom he's one of the most irredeemable paleocons on this issue in all punditry. And very effective, because he's been so shrewd in building up his centrist credibility.

But why? Why would Kaus, the centrist, so often dwelling on gossip and trivia, take it into his head to oppose immigration with such ferocity? It seems out of character... but Kaus's endorsement of Kerry in 2004 may provide a clue:

I'm voting for Kerry, mainly because I think Bush is prosecuting the fight against terrorism in a way that will make us dramatically less safe unless we have a conspicuous change at the top. Even if you supported the war in Iraq, now is the time to a) try to preserve our gains in that country and Afghanistan while we b) let the world calm down so that fewer people hate us (and hence fewer people try to come and kill us).

I don't expect Kerry to be a successful president in any other respect. It doesn't matter.


It's rare to find a piece of writing in which cowardice is so openly expressed. Kaus is a coward, and that's why he voted for Kerry, and why he opposes immigration. He's afraid that immigrants will undermine social equality and make life in America less tranquil. But what's really weird is that cowardice for Kaus is not just lack of courage, it's a living conviction, even a source of purpose. The only comparable historical figure I know of is Thomas Hobbes.

Kaus's opposition to immigration makes him an increasingly open ally of the paleocons. Given that the paleocons have become the odd man out in the Bush-led Republican party, the Democrats might have a chance to pick off their votes. The reason not to is that the paleocons are the most amoral constituency in the American electorate and Democrats, corrupted as they are by Bush-hatred, confused as they are by their own sophistries and their own spurious sense of superiority, still have enough conscience to sense that legitimizing the palecons would be wrong. Kaus, the sly tactician who, for weird reasons of his own, has become an ally-of-conviction of the paleocons, is a source of diabolical temptation for the Democrats. The party that embraced the high ideals of mercy and justice of Martin Luther King just might, in the next few years, make a Faustian bargain to regain power through a quietly ruthless campaign of violence against much of America's working poor.

Pray for their souls, that they might make the right choice.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

This Pence-Hutchison bill is really tough. 17 years to become a citizen. Requires illegal immigrants to go home in order to apply-- which many of them wouldn't, since they wouldn't trust the US to let them back in. And only Canadians, Mexicans, and some central Americans would be eligible, which is better than nothing, but means that a million or two visa over-stayers would be in the same situation they are now, and, more importantly, that the door would still be closed to hundreds of millions of Asians, South Americans, eastern Europeans, etc., who could contribute to our society, get better lives for themselves, save money to bring home or send home, and so on.

It's sad to think our immigration system is so bad than even this bill would be an improvement. But that's where we're at. So good luck to Congressmen Pence and Hutchison.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Robert Higgs wants to expel libertarian hawks from the movement. Key paragraph:

First, what makes anybody think that the state will protect us, as distinct from the state's leaders and its apparatus of rule? For more than a century, nearly all of the U.S. government's military activities have been devoted to protecting someone or something other than you and me (or, earlier, our forebears). Spain did not threaten Americans in 1898, and the Filipinos did not threaten them between 1899 and 1902. Germany did not seriously threaten any genuine American right in 1917 – the right to travel unmolested in a war zone on munitions-laden British or French ships does not qualify, despite Woodrow Wilson's tortured logic – and the Kaiser's government made conciliatory efforts repeatedly to maintain peaceful relations with the United States from 1914 until 1917. Germany did not seek war with the United States in 1940 and 1941 (until its alliance with Japan tipped it into a declaration of war on December 11, 1941); indeed, Hitler's regime, hoping to keep the United States at bay, displayed remarkable forbearance in the face of Franklin D. Roosevelt's attempts to provoke a war-justifying naval incident in the North Atlantic. In more recent decades, North Korea, North Vietnam, Panama, Serbia, and Iraq, among others, did not threaten American rights before the U.S. government launched wars against them. If, in making war, the government intends only to protect Americans from foreigners who threaten their lives, liberties, and property here on our own territory, then we must conclude that the government has displayed astonishingly bad judgment in choosing its targets. Why would anyone want to rely on a protector who manifestly does not shoot straight?


The weak point of this argument is World War II (which the blog at Reason magazine, linking to this article, cleverly omits from the quotation). Did Hitler show "forbearance" in not letting FDR start the war in the Northern Atlantic? No; he realized he had enough on his plate without fighting the US... for the time being. After Germany had conquered Britain and Russia and absorbed them into the empire, well, that's another story.

Of course, Britain and France had also hoped that German aggression would come at someone else's expense. For a while, it did. And when the Germans attacked them, they had a lot fewer allies. Nonetheless, the conservative US Senate refused to let the US become involved, confidently predicting right up to Dec. 7, 1941 that we could be safe while the Axis overran the rest of the world.

On the morning of Pearl Harbor, isolationism was discredited for a generation, and despite a partial revival, after Vietnam the 1930s-style isolationism that insists that the US should defend only US interests, narrowly defined, has ceased to be tenable, as every other US political grouping knows. Libertarian doves linger on, in a curious time warp.

By the way, none of this has much to do with my reasons for supporting the Iraq War, or US interventionism in general. I have many faults, sins, and moral failings, but to regard the well-being of non-Americans as of zero worth is a form of immorality that does not particularly tempt me. I supported the Iraq War because it benefited Iraqis. But even if you're skeptical about altruistic foreign policy, Robert Higgs' view is unsound.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

ON THE NATURE OF MAN

A distinction between mind and matter is a conceptual fundamental-- in every culture that I have studied, it is present. It comes from our experience, which consists of thought and the senses. (Perhaps our experience is not limited to these categories, but I, at least, am at a loss to name other aspects of it.)

Each person, each subject, each I-- for most purposes we identify subjects with human beings, but it is plausible that animals too are subjects, are I to themselves; beyond these, many wise people have believed in various ranks of angels, or, before that, pagan gods, not to mention God (I AM); in short, a subject is not at all defined as a human being, human form being only the accidental form of the class of subjects that we know best, but rather is anything that can (not necessarily in human words of course) say I-- possesses, or consists of, a perpetual sequence and motion of thought, an internal monologue for which, unlike external monologues, language is optional; language to this internal monologue is like a garment, which may be worn or not worn at leisure, so that words are intermingled with what may be called "images" if that word can be taken to be five-dimensional, drawing in the natures of all the five senses. In the mind also are concepts, forms or ideas in the Platonic sense, which are not reducible to images if those are assumed to be the copies or echoes of sensory experience: a reader who doubts that there are such concepts should reflect on the nature of numbers, for two can never occur in nature, for no "two" things are ever wholly alike, and it is only our mysterious capacity to generalize which allows us to reify objects, classify them with names, and say there are "two" of this or that.

Thought is a realm that is inherently difficult to describe, because it occurs within a subject; no one can ever enter my thoughts and experience them as I experience them, nor can I ever enter anyone else's. We can describe it only with metaphors, drawing our metaphors from the external world: we grasp a concept, we follow an argument; "intelligent" comes from a Latin word meaning to "see" or to "make out", as in making out a shape through a mist or fog.

Within the thought-realm of each subject is a will; and there is an intriguing contrast between the dominion that the will possesses over the thought-realm within and the dominion that it possesses over that small piece of the external world, the body, with which it is for a time connected. The power of the will over the body is limited yet has a certain regularity: I know that neither today nor tomorrow can I command my body to fly, but if I can master my own thoughts so as to pay sufficient attention to the task, I can without doubt command my fingers to type these sentences on this keyboard, and I have no fear that my fingers will type some other sentences of which I disapprove, contrary to my will. Within the realm of my thought, the powers of my will are both more and less: I can, in thought, be the ruler of vast kingdoms, I can create suns and moons and mountains a thousand miles high, and I can run up them without losing my breath, and leap off their cliffs and fly like an eagle along their slopes... And yet at the same time, my own thoughts can torment me; I can find myself (myself?-- which am I, my thoughts or my will?) thinking, against my will, thoughts so painful that I would prefer to cease to exist rather than to think them. At a time in my life when I was so tormented by my thoughts that I was tempted by suicide I wrote the following words (as part of a song):

I'm all alone
With my thoughts
I've got to make it
Through another night

Killers
Stalk the streets of my mind
And they grow bold
With the fading of the light

There's nowhere to run
And I'm running out of places to hide
So if you can hear me, friend,
Then help me fight the demons inside.


Does it make sense to distinguish mind and body? Is a mind without a body, a being of pure thought, possible? In waking life, sensory experience such a large share of the content of our thoughts, that existence without the senses may seem like an impossible or absurd idea; but dreams are an example where we lose our awareness of the external world for a time and become, in a sense, beings of pure thought. Dreams are occasionally wonderful, but in general, there is something awry about them, and they often turn into nightmares, from which we are happy to "wake up," that is, to be put in touch anew with the space-between-minds, the physical world.

Friday, July 21, 2006

GRAND STRATEGY

Josh Manchester writes:

The US invasion of Iraq has so shaken and stirred the Middle East that some exceptionally strange things are happening. More importantly, these things unequivocally favor the US in influencing the outcome of the Israeli-Hezbollah War now taking place in Lebanon...

Saddam [Hussein] is quite astute when he notes that the Arabs are placed between the US-Israeli hammer and the Iranian anvil. Before the US invasion, Iraq was the geostrategic pivot of the Middle East. All of the fault lines in the area's politics converge there. The Sunni-Shia split; the Arab-Persian split; the Ba'athist-Wahhabist split; and the Muslim-Israeli split: each of these ran through Iraq via its ethnic and religious makeup; its geographic location; and its former interests, alliances, and enemies.

The 'big bang,' as invading Iraq has sometimes been called, was meant to reorder the nature of politics in the region. This has been accomplished in a fundamental way. The idea of dividing an enemy force into its constituent parts and then dealing with it piecemeal is at least as old as Caesar's actions in Gaul. It applies no less to US strategy in the Middle East. Every faction there has been made to reconsider its relationship with every other. Rather than there being a monolithic clash of civilizations, thus far the US is dealing with the area in pieces -- in whatever way it sees fit to do so -- whether making it tacitly clear to Syria that what happened in Iraq could more easily happen to it, or threatening Iran on behalf of the region and world, or seeking cooperation with the Saudis in hunting down al Qaeda.

Far from being a bit of belated triumphalism about the invasion, all of this has immediate and direct consequences. While the success of Iraq's democracy hangs in the balance from an operational perspective, the strategic advantages created by the invasion of Iraq are working very favorably for the US in the current Israeli-Lebanon crisis in very tangible ways.

Were Saddam still in power, the Arab world would not feel nearly as threatened by Hezbollah, the Frankenstein's monster of Iran's creation. Instead, they would have sided with the Syrian foreign minister's strong support for Hezbollah. Saddam himself might even have offered cash rewards to anyone attempting martyrdom against the Jews.

Instead, they came to no consensus. The leading Arab League states, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, call Hezbollah's actions "inappropriate and irresponsible." This lessens the urgency of calls from the international community, whether the G8, UN, or EU, for a ceasefire. That lessened urgency creates something very precious indeed: a moment in time and space wherein Israel has the most fleeting of opportunities for decisive action against Hezbollah, an avowed foe, a terrorist organization, and a constant threat to the security of its populace.


The Iraq War's geostrategic benefits are an example of a general feature of life, namely, that doing the right thing more or less disinterestedly tends to benefit you in unanticipated ways.

Democrat partisan bloggers don't have a coherent, smart, compelling alternate narrative on foreign policy, but Greg Djeredjian does, or at any rate many of the elements of one. Note to Democrats: this kind of thing is the way to become credible on national security.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Andrew Sullivan writes:

Markos Moulitsas laments the low turnout of Democratic voters in races so far this year. He's onto something. Most voters have now seen through the vacuity, corruption and arrogance of today's GOP. But they haven't seen much to give them confidence in the Democrats.


Except for one thing: Senate Democrats voted in favor of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act 38-4.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Harold Meyerson, reflecting on the present crisis, invokes the beginning of World War I:

I wonder if this is how the summer of 1914 felt.

Then, you will recall, the assassination of the Austrian archduke by a Serbian nationalist terrorist provided the senescent Austro-Hungarian Empire the excuse it had been looking for to wipe out the Serbian nationalists, which provoked the pan-Slavic nationalists at work for the czar to threaten the Austro-Hungarians with destruction, which led Germany's Kaiser to pledge retaliatory war against Russia, which prompted the French, who had an anti-German alliance with Russia, to begin mobilization. . . . Nobody wanted global conflagration, yet nobody knew how to stop it...

I review this familiar history for those of us (myself included) who've been wondering how the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers (and the killing of eight others in the Hezbollah raid) has escalated in less than a week to what may be the brink of a cataclysmic regional war with ghastly global implications. The two crises and the sets of conflicting forces are by no means parallel, but in each the power of nationalism, the sense of national victimization, the need for revenge, the opportunity for miscalculation, the illusion of attainable victory, and all-around fear and rage loom large.


A problem here: what are the sides in this notional war? In World War I, a set of interlocking alliances, of roughly equal strength, was already facing off. But the situation in the Middle East is much more intricate.

Israel is fighting Hamas and Hezbollah. Hezbollah is sponsored by Iran and Syria. Hezbollah is Shiite. So is Iran. So are the parties that are leading the government in Iraq. Indeed, the godfather of Iraqi democracy, Ayatollah Sistani, was trained in Qom (Iran's theological center) and speaks with an Iranian accent. The Maliki government in Iraq is an American ally. And America is the closest ally of Israel. We come full circle.

Then there's Hamas. Hamas and Hezbollah are both enemies of Israel, but Hamas is Sunni, Hezbollah is Shia. Hamas enjoys strong support from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. Saudi is a sort-of US ally, with long tentacles of influence in Washington, until recently a host of US troops. Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, and other leaders are highly suspicious of Iran, Hezbollah's sponsor. So while they support Hamas, they have condemned Hezbollah's attack on Israel.

Then there's Lebanon. Lebanon is the region's most commercially thriving, pro-Western country, partly thanks to a huge diaspora. Recently they took to the streets to expel Syrian occupiers, with strong support from the UN, particularly the US and France. The Lebanese have reason to resent Hezbollah, for having got them into a war that in no way serves their country's interests. But then, it's the Israelis who are bombing them. So whose side are they on?

If there is going to be a Mideast regional war (let's hope not of course) it's anybody's guess what the sides will be.

AID TO LEBANON

Poor Lebanon:

So far, Israel has killed more than 230 people — all but a handful of whom were civilians — including whole families. With its customary arrogance, it has issued peremptory warnings to entire communities to get out of its way or face the consequences: terrorism in the true sense of the word. It gave the residents of the town of Marwaheen in southern Lebanon, for example, a few hours to leave their homes. The terrified residents came under Israeli fire as they fled. More than 15 people, most of them children, were killed.

Israel later warned the entire population of southern Lebanon to leave. No Arab can forget that terrorizing an entire population from its homes is the tactic that was used to seize possession of Palestine in the spring and summer of 1948. Not everyone will leave. Many will reject Israel's imperious warnings — what right, they will ask, does Israel have to terrify us into flight from our homes? In any case, most of them have nowhere to flee to — and even if they did, Israel has destroyed the bridges and is bombing the roads out of the south.

In a week of vindictive bombardment, Israel has destroyed the infrastructure that Lebanon spent a decade building. Under the cover of misleading headlines, such as one that read "Israel Pounds Hezbollah Strongholds," Israel has in fact bombed towns and villages, provincial centers and Beirut.

Israel has killed Christians, Sunnis and Shiites, old and young, men and women, from the great Phoenician cities of Sidon and Tyre to more humble towns — Chtoura and Juniyah, Damour and Naame, Jiye and Baalbek, Khiam and Batrun.

It has wrecked roads, bridges, a lighthouse, ports, tunnels, electrical pylons, water mains, fuel depots, gas stations, power plants, houses, shops, schools — and even a milk factory. It has repeatedly blasted the international airport that was the symbol of Lebanon's rebirth from 15 years of war.

Where, when or if Lebanon will ever get the funding to rebuild what Israel has smashed remain open questions. When Israel finally relents, it will leave Lebanon without a functioning infrastructure — and the lives of nearly 4 million people altered beyond recognition.

That, of course, is explicitly the point of this outrage. Israel's army chief bragged that he would set Lebanon back "20 years." That is what is happening — as a silent world watches.


Of course, this is only one side of the story. Hezbollah started the war. UN Resolution 1559 demands that Hezbollah disarm. Hezbollah is determined to destroy Israel even though Israel evacuated Lebanese territory six years ago. They don't have the excuse Hamas has, that they're living under Israeli occupation. Their genocidal fantasies are unprovoked.

But to the question: "where... Lebanon will ever get the funding to rebuild," America would be smart to step in and help. A compensation for allowing a gang of scumbags to be destroyed on their territory. The more modern Lebanese probably have mixed feelings about this war, but if a lot of ruined roads and bridges remain in their country for years to come, it will make them more negative.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I, PUTIN'S HENCHMAN

That's probably what a lot of TCS readers will think about me after reading my article "Putin the Great?" (not my title but I can see why they picked it). But my goal in the article was not to be a henchman but a peacemaker, to be a lone voice against a West-Russia confrontation that I think we would be better avoiding.

I should say that a centralization of power under Putin is not, I think, what Russia needs. I like Putin's first administration better than his second. It's important for there to be independent power bases in a society. Imprisoning Khodorkovsky was bad for Russia's medium-term interests. It's as if Bush had imprisoned McCain in 2001. It's a mistake because a guy like McCain can become your best ally in need, precisely because he's an independent voice with his own political capital.

But Western advice played out so badly in the 1990s that Russians have good reason not to listen to us now. Not that I pin most of the blame on naive Western advisers like Jeffery Sachs; most of it I put on naive Russians like Yeltsin who listened to the Western advisers. Russia should have pursued a more gradualist transition, finding a way to let liberalism grow up in the cracks in the Soviet system while keeping some elements of that system in place as long as possible. There is no progress without tradition.

Westerners are often blinded by ideology in foreign affairs. Not in the case of Iraq though: people everywhere may not dream of "liberty" as Americans conceive it, but people almost everywhere, and certainly in Iraq, hate murderous tyrants like Saddam Hussein. Overthrowing monsters like that is always a good cause. Actually, "blinded by ideology" is perhaps too uncharitable a phrase; our ideology blinds us to a lot of local realities, but it does embody some wisdom derived from our own unusually happy and successful national experience. It would be a good thing if Russians were to embrace some of the ideological bric-a-brac of Western democracy.

The trouble is that when it comes to Russia, the West is blinded not only by ideology but also by self-interest. For whose benefit do we want Russia to be democratic? For our own benefit: we would rest easier with a liberal democracy on NATO's border, since we know that democracies don't wage war on each other. If we were thinking about what is best for Russians, we might still make the argument for freedom, but we would be careful not to talk about "backsliding" from the 1990s, as if the 1990s in Russia were something good.

UPDATE: When I first heard Putin's remark about Russia "not wanting to be a democracy like Iraq" I was a bit annoyed at him because I thought it was a gratuitous jab. Apparently not:

During a joint news conference Saturday in St. Petersburg, Bush said he raised concerns about democracy in Russia during a frank discussion with the Russian leader.

"I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world, like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion, and I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same," Bush said.

To that, Putin replied, "We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy that they have in Iraq, quite honestly."


So it was Bush who brought up the Iraq analogy! This is such a bad way to make the case for democracy to Russians-- Russians have had a lot of violent instability in their history and they don't like it, thank you very much!-- that I wonder if Bush was being ironic. Sort of like, "I have to exert 'pressure' on you to democratize, to please the media back home, but just to signal to you that you don't have to listen to it, that I'm just kidding, I'll frame my exhortation in the most implausible possible language, so that you have an easy way out. Okay, now that that's out of the way, let's get down to business."

The other possibility is that Bush actually thinks Iraq is a desirable model for Russia. If that's the case, I'm glad that more solid people like Cheney and Condi have a lot of heft in this administration. The contemporary Iraq model-- a fledgling democracy superimposed on bloody chaos-- is desirable by comparison to the totalitarianism that preceded it, and possibly to some of Iraq's nasty neighbors, like Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran, but not compared to Putin's Russia.

Monday, July 17, 2006

EVIL VERSUS WICKED

I think the distinction between the terms "evil" and "wicked" is the following: in evil, there is an element of insanity. This infects the ends of an evil person, which are bewildering for persons not tainted by evil. Evil is capable of great sacrifice and courage for its ends.

Wickedness seeks natural goods-- prosperity, sex, luxury, ambition, family-- that normal and good people can recognize and understand, but is unscrupulous in seeking them.

My sense is that Tom Tancredo is an evil man, who is very angry at contemporary America for reasons that a well-adjusted young urban American could simply not understand, lacking the habits of hatred which provide an essential lens for seeing the world in this way. Pat Buchanan seems to me like someone with fairly natural desires, who wants-- on behalf of himself and his imagined-or-real constituency-- a complacent suburban life in which his children will marry like-minded people, and with no dark-skinned poor people around to trouble his consience or pose a real or imagined crime threat. He is a wicked man because he is willing to harm many potential migrants in order to get this.

I loved Bob Wright's book Nonzero but this NY Times op-ed is naive:

Nowhere does this emphasis on international governance contrast more clearly with recent Republican ideology than in arms control. The default neoconservative approach to weapons of mass destruction seems to be that when you suspect a nation has them, you invade it. The Iraq experience suggests that repeated reliance on this policy could grow wearying. The president, to judge by his late-May overture toward Iran and his subdued tone toward North Korea, may be sensing as much.

Still, he is nowhere near embracing the necessary alternative: arms control accords that would impose highly intrusive inspections on all parties. Neoconservatives, along with the Buchananite nationalist right, see in this approach an unacceptable sacrifice of national sovereignty.

But such “sacrifices” can strengthen America. One reason international weapons inspectors haven’t gotten a good fix on Iran’s nuclear program is that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty gives them access only to “declared” sites. Wouldn’t Americans be willing to change that and let inspectors examine America more broadly — we have nothing to hide, after all — if that made it harder for other nations to cheat on the treaty?


As if. Is Iran going to submit to inspections just because America does? Absurd. This type of blind faith in international institutions is an inadvertent self-parody of NY Times liberalism.

Of course, Wright doesn't actually claim that Iran will agree to more intrusive inspections if America does. He poses a rhetorical question: would we be willing to allow more intrusive inspections? Answer: possibly, if the nuclear double standard that makes nukes acceptable in America, Britain, France, Russia and China (and India, Israel and Pakistan?) is maintained. But why should other countries, especially countries that are unhappy with the established distribution of international power, agree to that in the long run?

I am, by the way, hardly a representative of the Buchananite right.

Friday, July 14, 2006

WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Before the war in 2003, I read a UN prediction (can't find a link, sorry) that the war would cost 250,000 lives and create millions of refugees. Was it worth the price? Yes, I thought.

Why not? Saddam's rule cost at least a million lives, maybe as many as 6 million, so even in terms of human life you might come out ahead. But anyway, there is a profound truth to phrase "Give me liberty or give me death." I've read 1984. I know that I would take the chance of being liberated from Saddam even if I had only a 1% chance of survival.

Anyway, at first the UN prediction looked completely wrong but now it may be belatedly coming true. StrategyPage describes "the expulsion of the Sunni Arabs." Healing Iraq has an interesting post on the "Iraqi invasion" of Jordan. In a way, the Sunni Arabs collectively deserve expulsion, except that there's no such thing as collectively deserving; moral responsibility is a property of the individual, not the group.

In Baghdad, the killing is accelerating. This portrait of Baghdad from blogger Riverbend is wrenching. Riverbend is a fine writer but an Anti-American Iraqi-British leftie who lived in England until she was eleven (if I remember right), and who used to work in a computer firm under Saddam, so she is obviously not representative of the Iraqi population, but still.

Meanwhile, there is "open war" between Hezbollah and Israel. Another anti-Iraq War argument may be coming true: the "regional war." A lot of people have been killed by Israeli strikes in Lebanon in the past 48 hours or so, so I should probably resist the urge to be cheerful about this... but it's nice to see Hezbollah get nailed. I'm sympathetic with the Palestinians, trapped without citizenship in Israeli-occupied land. But Hezbollah lives in the most progressive country in the Middle East; they have no excuse for participating in a death cult. Roger Simon thinks this is what Bush (should have) said to the Lebanese PM:

I'm hardly surprised. More likely it ran like this: "Seems to me, Mr. Prime Minister, that half of your country was being run by a homocidal maniac cult. I'd be glad to have someone come in and clean that up if I were you.... Now, you go say anything you want for public consumption, but just sit back and relax and let things happen. Comprende, amigo?"


If a Lebanon-Israel civil war breaks out, will that be a refutation of democratic peace theory, given that Lebanon is now a democracy? (The "democratic peace" is the famous empirical fact that there has never been a war between two democracies.) Well, maybe not. Hezbollah, not Lebanon, is in open war with Israel, and the fact that Hezbollah is part of the government and at the same is fighting its own war calls into question whether Lebanon has the monopoly of force that would constitute it as a state, let alone a democracy. Still, it's a close call.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

SINGULAR "THEY"

Tyler Cowen links to this list of "non-errors" in English: usages that people say are wrong but are actually standard. One that didn't make the list is the singular "they," as in, "If someone finds a newspaper on the metro with no apparent owner, is it all right for them to keep it?" The correct pronoun used to would have been "him"-- "is it all right for him to keep it?" But feminists find using the masculine pronoun as generic is offensive, and it also does seem a bit odd. You can use "him or her", but that's a bit unwieldy. "It" is gender-neutral, but cannot be used to refer to people.

The singular "they," which is part of normal speech for many people, is personal, gender-neutral, and short. It's an excellent linguistic innovation, and should be kept.

"Used to would have" also did not make the list. I like it myself, since it allows a meaning-- it adds a conditional angle to the "used to" tense-- that is hard to convey otherwise. But "would" is one of those modal verbs that, inconveniently, does not have an infinitive.

I'm also a fan of another prohibited usage, the double comparative, as in "My dad is taller than my mom, but I am more taller than my wife than my dad is than my mom." Why not?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

LIBERTARIAN DEMOCRAT

Here is a manifesto on the "Libertarian Democrat" from Kos. This is a weird version of libertarianism:

So in practical terms, what does a Libertarian Dem look like? A Libertarian Dem rejects government efforts to intrude in our bedrooms and churches. A Libertarian Dem rejects government "Big Brother" efforts, such as the NSA spying of tens of millions of Americans. A Libertarian Dem rejects efforts to strip away rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights -- from the First Amendment to the 10th. And yes, that includes the 2nd Amendment and the right to bear arms.

So far, this isn't much different than what a traditional libertarian believes. Here is where it begins to differ (and it shouldn't).

A Libertarian Dem believes that true liberty requires freedom of movement -- we need roads and public transportation to give people freedom to travel wherever they might want. A Libertarian Dem believes that we should have the freedom to enjoy the outdoor without getting poisoned; that corporate polluters infringe on our rights and should be checked. A Libertarian Dem believes that people should have the freedom to make a living without being unduly exploited by employers. A Libertarian Dem understands that no one enjoys true liberty if they constantly fear for their lives, so strong crime and poverty prevention programs can create a safe environment for the pursuit of happiness. A Libertarian Dem gets that no one is truly free if they fear for their health, so social net programs are important to allow individuals to continue to live happily into their old age. Same with health care. And so on.


Kos is hardly "libertarian," but he has one characterological trait in common with a lot of libertarians: paranoia. "The freedom to enjoy the outdoors without getting poisoned?" Air pollution has been declining in the US for decades. Kos is paranoid about pollution. "No one enjoys true liberty if they constantly fear for their lives..." Where in America do people "constantly fear for their lives" because of crime? Well, maybe paranoid people like Kos do.

Kos adopts, and extends, the amorality and paranoia of a certain type of libertarian, without the philosophical bent, or the understanding of free-market economics. Still, it's an interesting exercise in triangulation.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Heather MacDonald criticizes "sanctuary laws":

In those final remarks, Bloomberg blasted a House proposal to penalize cities and counties that have “sanctuary laws.” These ubiquitous laws prohibit local government employees from notifying federal immigration authorities about the presence of illegal aliens. Sanctuary mandates create vast law-free zones where illegal immigrants know that they face virtually no risk of apprehension...

In 1996, Congress responded by prohibiting local governments from restricting the speech of their workers in this way. To no avail. Virtually every sanctuary city proceeded to ignore this new federal law as well as the preexisting immigration laws. New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani took his defiance to federal court. He lost his suit against the 1996 law, but—on September 10, 2001—declared his intention to continue violating it anyway.


Contra MacDonald, it's perfectly legitimate for local governments to prevent their employees from turning into privateer Minutemen while on the city's clock. First, local taxpayers may prefer that the employees they hire enforce real laws, not perverse, unjust, and infeasible national "laws" passed by a misguided Congress. So local government employees have as much right to forbid their employees from notifying federal law enforcement about illegal immigrants while on the clock as they do to forbid them from surfing porn sites on the web. Second, it's normal for the government, and other organizations, to restrict employees' rights to use information acquired on the job, if such uses of information would reduce employees' effectiveness. If the cops will turn in every illegal they find to the police, illegals are less likely to assist them in catching thieves and murderers. It's perfectly normal for a city to bar its employees from conducting themselves in ways that harm the interests of the city (if the city regards immigration as beneficial) and their effectiveness in performing their jobs.

What's especially interesting is that Giuliani defended sanctuary laws. I didn't really know Giuliani's position on immigration, which was why I preferred McCain. If Giuliani is really as pro-immigration as McCain, without having incurred McCain's negatives with conservatives, that makes him an appealing choice for 2008.

A FEDERALIST APPROACH TO IMMIGRATION

Good job, Colorado:

State lawmakers approved a measure late Monday that would force a million people receiving state or federal aid to verify their citizenship, part of a package of bills dealing with illegal immigration that Democrats called the toughest in the nation.

The measure would deny most non-emergency state benefits to illegal immigrants 18 years old and older — forcing people to prove legal residency when applying for benefits or renewing their eligibility. The measure passed the state Senate 22-13 and the House 48-15. Both are controlled by Democrats.


It's a good idea to deprive immigrants of all taxpayer-funded benefits, to make sure that immigration is a fiscal positive, and to dispel the myth that immigrants generally (as opposed to a tiny minority of them) are parasitic.

More generally, it might be a good idea for social policy regarding immigrants to be left largely to the states:

At least 30 states have passed laws or taken other steps this year to crack down on illegal immigrants, often making it harder for undocumented workers to find jobs or receive public services.

Acting while Congress struggles to set policy regarding the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, states have enacted at least 57 laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures and a USA TODAY analysis. Among major themes of the state legislation: fining businesses that hire undocumented workers and denying such companies public contracts if they don't verify the legal status of employees.

"The trends ... have leaned toward the punitive side," says Ann Morse, an immigration expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "The No. 1 topic has been employment in terms of deterring employers and employees."


That way, states where opposition to illegal immigration is strong can adopt more nativist labor-market policies, while more dynamic states can take a more libertarian approach. States can play a "laboratories of democracy" role, and later on, social scientists can see which approaches worked better. States and cities, being closer to voters, are in a better position to evaluate the externalities associated with immigration.

This is not to say that I personally approve (morally, that is) of anti-immigrationism even at the state level. But it does less harm there than at the federal level.

Friday, July 07, 2006

IDEALISTS IN POWER

The new president of Liberia writes:

Academic studies on the evolution of leadership in Africa take note of the fact that the liberation leaders of the continent were nationalistic, selfless and visionary — leaders who put the interest of the state over and above parochial considerations. The immediate post-colonial, and indeed post-apartheid, period bear testimony to this.

Notwithstanding capacity limitations, several of these leaders — notably Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Patrice Lumumba and Gamal Abdul Nasser — inspired their people and exuded a high sense of nationalism and patriotism in most of their activities.


Kwame Nkrumah, Nyerere, Lumumba, and Nasser may have been idealistic and charismatic, but they were also misguided and to varying degrees brought their countries to disaster. The coercive apparatus of the state is a very corrupting habitat for idealists. A deep, persistent skepticism about the justice and efficacy of coercion is an essential asset for all good rulers.

I wish President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf the best of luck in "mak[ing] Liberia a truly democratic, participatory and just political order."

IMMIGRANTS AND GEOPOLITICS

This is a beautiful headline: "Mexico Vote Tally Fives Free Trader A Narrow Victory." Congratulations to Felipe Calderon!

It will be interesting to see if, given that the election was so close, absentee ballots sent in by Mexicans living in the United States might have made the difference. Trivia question: did immigration help the US win the Cold War? Answer: In 1947-8, the Christian Democrats were in a tight struggle with the Italian Communists for control of Italy. President Truman encouraged Italian-Americans to write their relatives in Italy and encourage them to oppose communism. This intervention probably turned the tables.

Nativists complain that we hear Spanish spoken on American streets nowadays. If nativists had had their way a century ago, we might all be speaking Russian now.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

How curious! The Weekly Standard celebrates Independence Day with a tribute to... Thoreau, and Walden:

There he sheltered his human spirit from the encroaching mass culture that surrounded him, of those who defined the human being merely as an economic unit, a machine of pleasure and pain,
or a "tool making animal." Thoreau sought to defend the whole man. At Walden Pond, he domesticated the complete human being: body, soul and mind.

Artistic knowledge is intuitive and spiritual. Materialism and rationalism rarely see beyond the tyranny of fact--of what can be seen, touched, or sold. Thoreau challenged our whole notion of material progress. He wrote, "while civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them."


Can economists and Thoreau get along? Thoreau's opposition to specialization and materialism seems to counter the whole trend of economics. And yet it might just be possible for economists to domesticate Thoreau's insights. Thoreau's declaration of independence from government that libertarian economists should like. Anyway, I have a stake in making Thoreau respectable because I applied his arguments to the immigration issue in "A Right to Migrate."

IS MARK STEYN A CLOSET IMMIGRATION SUPPORTER?

What is Mark Steyn's position on immigration? I can't figure it out from "Bush Lied, People Applied!!!" Sometimes, he seems to allow it to be presumed that he's anti-immigration just because he's a conservative icon. But look at this:

That’s the other phony-baloney term floating around: “Open borders.” I wish. Given that the United States has no problem legalizing millions of felons, I don’t see why we don’t just scrap the 79 visas entirely and say, unless you’re in the Interpol computer for a series of unsolved prostitute murders in Dubrovnik or some such, come on in. I’d quite like to bring in a Mary Poppins type for my kids and, to be honest, given the contempt the Senate and the President and various state agencies have shown for US immigration law, why shouldn’t I be allowed just to fly her straight over and start her working? But no, that will still take a decade of bureaucratic torpor to process...


OPEN BORDERS. I WISH?! YEAH!!! That doesn't sound like an anti-immigration conservative to me. I think Mark Steyn, deep down, is shrewd enough to realize that knee-jerk anti-big-government conservatism is not compatible with the anti-immigration stance that so many conservatives-- at the National Review, for example-- take. His point, which he chooses a strange, confusing but entertaining way to make, may boil down to the something like this: our immigration laws are a lot of junk, which should be sabotaged and disobeyed.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

PATRIOTISM VERSUS NATIONALISM

Immigration foe Mark Krikorian has written graciously that "I know that there are patriots who support mass immigration." Perhaps it would be polite to return the favor and say that I know there are patriots who want to close the borders.

But I must admit that I don't personally understand how patriotism and opposition to immigration can be compatible. If you think something is cool, don't you want to show it to people? If I go see a movie and it's really good, I'll write to my friends and family and tell them to go see it. In the same way, if I love and admire America, I want as many people as possible to get a chance to experience it, enjoy it, participate in it.

A "patriotism" that wants to close the borders to immigrants is, I think, something else: nationalism.

Are patriotism and nationalism really different things, or just two words for the same thing, with different connotations and rhetorical uses? I doubt that there is a distinction that is universally understood, agreed upon, and observed in linguistic practice. Yet I think there are two quite different impulses that underlie patriotism/nationalism, and which justify an effort to sort the two out, and if possible to attach the word "patriotism" to one and "nationalism" to the other.

Nationalism is rooted in man's instinct to form gangs for the sake of protection: I watch your back, you watch mine. We don't necessarily love each other or even like each other; we might hate each other, but still find cooperation advantageous. In order to cement the bonds within the gang, it's useful to engage in psychological manipulation to foster love for, or any kind of emotional attachment to, insiders and hate or aversion for outsiders. Both feelings are equally useful.

Patriotism is rooted in man's faculty for admiration, which can also be directed towards individuals, but in the case of patriotism is directed towards the "collective personality" of a nation. Patriotism is the special case when the nation I admire happens to be my own. I can also admire other nations: I can be an Anglophile, or a Russophile, for example. I think the admiration of others is a very different emotion from admiration of oneself, but American patriotism, for an American, is not a fundamentally different emotion from the same American's (mine, for example) Anglophilia or Russophilia. Although I am aware that I am part of the American nation, I nonetheless experience patriotism as an admiration for something other than myself, for traditions which began long before I was born and will continue-- I hope-- long after I am gone, of whose greatness I have only a dim understanding. I feel humbled and, in a certain way, surprised that I am counted worthy to be part of this great enterprise.

Where nationalism is collective self-interest, patriotism is a disinterested love for one's country. A nationalist who was unjustly banished forever from his country would give up his nationalism. A patriot who was unjustly banished would be very sad, but remain a patriot.

Gang-loyalty, or nationalism, is a zero-sum game. I value the interests of my fellow gang-members above those of other gangs; I will do violence to other gangs if it is in my gang's interests. Patriotism, by contrast, is compatible with a broad-minded humanitarianism. Just as I can love both mountains and beaches, both Bach and Beethoven, so I can love America, England, and Russia.

It is a poor love that blinds itself to, or justifies, the beloved's faults. One should love the beloved despite the faults-- hate the sin, but love the sinner, hate the sin because one loves the sinner. A wise and steadfast lover strives to convert the beloved, to persuade him to mend his ways, for his own benefit. An American patriot should feel shame at some parts of our history: slavery, segregation, the internment of the Japanese during World War II, arming Saddam Hussein against Iran, forbidding the immigration of Jews in the 1930s, which could have largely prevented the Holocaust. And yet each of these past sins has a redeeming epilogue: we freed the slaves; we abolished segregation and largely purged our national culture of racism; we strengthened civil liberties for minorities so that, unlike the Japanese in World War II, Arabs during the war on terror have enjoyed full civil liberties; we were too late to save European Jews, tragically, but we did punish Hitler, and supported the creation of a Jewish homeland in Israel (though in the process we have sometimes been guilty of injustice to the Palestinians).

Today, the United States is applying mass coercion to prevent people from the Third World from coming to America for a better life. Hopefully, in time, we will repent of this evil, and future American, on future Fourths of July, will reflect patriotically on how the American Dream ceased to be the American-born-only dream; how patriotism triumphed over nationalism.

Monday, July 03, 2006

ARE STATES COHERENT POLITICAL UNITS?

Libertarian economist Jeff Miron makes the case for federalism. Federalism is a great idea in the abstract, but somehow I can't work up much enthusiasm for empowering state governments. States, it seems to me, are mostly arbitrary lines on a map with no real cohesion. I grew up in Colorado, where the urban corridor of the Front Range, from Fort Collins through Boulder and Denver down to Colorado Springs, had very little in common with the ranching communities hundreds of miles away in places like Grand Junction. Now I live in Washington, DC, a metropolitan area which is spread across three states/quasi-states: Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.

A useful version of federalism would empower cities. Cities really have a certain coherence and unique character. Boston's America's #1 university town; Washington, the politics/policy hub; Los Angeles, an entertainment mecca; Houston, the energy capital; San Francisco, the financial capital of the west coast; and so on. If people have affection for their states, they probably have a more particular place in mind: if I'm nostalgic for "Colorado," I'm probably thinking of something totally different than what someone from Grand Junction, or a town on the plains, is thinking of. But "Washington, DC" conjures up some of the same images and associations for all its residents. I believe that strong city governments would be much more effective "laboratories for democracy" than states, and increasingly so as mobility and urbanization increase.

Unfortunately, there's a strong legal and historical basis for state-based federalism, but not for city-based federalism.

UPDATE: Greg Mankiw focuses on the redistribution issue raised by Miron; he thinks Miron is not convincing because he assumes a point that is controversial and needs to be argued for, namely, that redistribution is bad.

I think different kinds of redistribution are bad in different ways. Rich-to-poor redistribution is bad because it creates a culture of dependency among the poor, leading to family and community breakdown and crime. People's moral need to work and serve their fellow men is more important than their physical needs, and because of our fallen nature we sometimes require the threat of poverty-- of shame, pain, ultimately starvation-- to get us to suffer the humiliation of serving others. I expressed this idea in one of my favorites of my own essays, "Work, Service and Worship."

Middle-class-to-middle-class redistribution is bad for a different reason: middle-class people who think they need hand-outs from the government are contemptible, spoiled brats. Yes, I include all those affluent seniors who are living off Social Security checks. To some extent, it's a mitigating factor that they've been brainwashed by FDR and his successors into thinking that "they're owed," that it's a "compact between the generations," and so on. But ultimately, they're behaving disgracefully, taking all that money from the government when children are starving in Africa. It's sad because they did so many good things for their country in their younger days: winning World War II, rebuilding the economy after the war, containing the Soviets, and all that. I would be in awe of them if they hadn't squandered their good names by turning into such greedy geezers. Of course, middle-class-to-middle-class transfers are bad because they create perverse incentives, they corrupt politics with mass rent-seeking, and they fail to help those who really need it. But my reasons for opposing them are more moral than economic.

So, if you can't redistribute to the poor, and you can't redistribute to the middle class, doesn't that rule out redistribution altogether? Maybe not. I think public education is completely misunderstood when it's called a "public good," really, it's a form of redistribution, that limits the ability of wealthy parents to create inequities in the human capital endowment of the rising generation. I would like to see a voucher scheme, which would make the education economy more effective (and pleasant), but the public-finance/redistributive aspect would still be there. I'm also not against redistributing to handicapped people. Also, I think it may be worth redistributing to people who, for some reason, create a lot of externalities through their preferred consumption: thus, there may be a case for subsidizing drugs to seniors, because the money ultimately goes back to drug companies, who have market incentives to use it to develop new drugs, which will eventually become public domain and may lengthen all of our lives.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

GIULIANI VERSUS MCCAIN

In the comments of a recent post, Tom Reasoner describes my ideas about immigration as "brilliant and inspired," but he wonders why I'm still a Republican. "You are really a Libertarian," he says.

I'd just as soon see the Democrats take the House of Representatives this fall, or even the Senate as long as it's the senators who voted against the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act-- such as Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania-- who take the fall. That said, my two favorite national politicians (other than Bush) are John McCain and Rudy Giuliani.

Here Greg Mankiw praises John McCain's ringing endorsement of globalization, and his reassuringly alarmist (because we need to open our eyes to it) account of the "tsunami" of entitlement spending that's waiting for us down the road. And Ryan Sager describes how Rudy Giuliani is taking voucher schools and nuclear power on the campaign trail.

I'm a bit distressed to see that Giuliani seems to be more popular than John McCain, though both candidates are well-liked. I like them both, a lot, but McCain a bit more, because his stance on immigration shows real courage and principle. Also his stance on Iraq. But the real shame is that they can't both be president-- or at least, that we'd have to wait until 2012 or 2016. Would one of them nominate the other for vice-president? Would either of them take the vice-president spot?

Either a Giuliani-McCain or a McCain-Giuliani ticket would be excellent. The prospect of that is enough to keep me Republican in the medium term, even if I hope the perpetrators of HR 4437 (the bill that would criminalize illegal immigrants) go down in flames.

UPDATE: Tom says he "just can't stomach the Republicans remaining in power, no matter who their candidate is." Well, there's no accounting for tastes. The Republicans have certainly been spending a lot, but they're getting a bit better, and there's no reason at all to think they're worse than the Democrats would be. Of course, things were better on that front in the Clinton years, but that was largely because of an energized "Contract with America" Republican Congress. Republicans have been pretty light on the regulation side. And the economy has done great under their stewardship. For some libertarians, pacifism trumps everything, but Tom's a soldier, and he even supported the Iraq War, sort of, though not the timing of it. So why the anti-Republican zeal? I think it's a cultural thing: it's galling to enlightened post-religious guys like Tom that a bunch of ignorant churchgoers hold the reins of national power. Tom speculates about Democratic contenders for '08, but doesn't say who he likes best.