Friday, June 24, 2005

My access to the internet here in the middle of nowhere (where my summer job is) comes only through my employer, where every keystroke I enter is monitored. Unfortunately, by the time I get off, all the local wi-fi places are closed. So the bottom line is that my internet access has been unexpectedly cut off. No more posts/comments from me until the end of the summer.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

On the downing street memos: I'm not sure that I share the enthusiasm many liberals have these days for the content of these documents. Lets say, indeed, that Bush had decided on war in early 2002.

I say, so what? Why does it matter when the actual military decision was taken? Surely you'd expect there to be a gap between the time of decision-making and the time of the beginning of warfare, if only for military reasons.

Someone might reply by saying that the memos prove that Bush did not give the UN inspections a chance to work; he had already made up up his mind. But the memos prove no such thing. Whatever decision Bush made in 2002, he may have changed his mind to give inspections a chance.

Indeed, the compromise that resulted in UN resolution 1441 and Iraqi inspections arose out of the efforts of the US to gain support from other countries for the invasion of Iraq. So it was already widely known that Bush's efforts to build a coalition to invade Iraq were changed, at least temprorarily, into plans for an inspection regime.

Now there is one passage in the memos I consider damning to Bush.
[ Sir Richard Lovelace, head of the MI6] reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.
But this tells us nothing we did not already know: Bush misled the public about Iraqi WMDs. Old news.

Now I feel Bush's deception on Iraqi WMDs was not covered sufficiently by the media. And to the extent that these memos will coerce the media into fulfilling their duty I'm happy. But I don't think they offer us much in the way of new evidence.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Pretty much everything I write here these days seems to be a criticism of America Abroad. Great blog, though I have yet to be satisfied with a single post they've written.

James Lindsay concludes that the only available action for the US is to "stay the course in Iraq." He arrives at this (startling!) conclusion by the process of elimination: withdrawal would embolden the insurgency, a troop increase would alienate Iraqis.

This just goes to show you why we need foreign policy experts. Where would we get incisive analysis like this without them?

Meanwhile, Lindsay's post illustrates why I have trouble forming opinions about Iraq. Now those who trust Bush should have no trouble deferring to his judgement; but because I belive that Bush had misled the public on many occasions, I feel the need to form an independent opinion. And its hard, because its entirely unclear what consequences each action would produce.

A troop increase would alienate Iraqis. OK. How much? Enough to give a substantial boost to insurgency? Enough to alienate them from the political process? Enough to create problems for the US even after the benefits an increase in security would provide?

Troop withdrawal would embolden the insurgency. OK. How much? Enough to win the war against the Iraqi troops we have trained, of which there are, according our illustrious defense department, hundreds of thousands? And what exactly are the chances of a civil war in Iraq after an American pullout?

The public needs expert answers to these questions, answers that are not being provided by our cheerfully optimistic (insurgency is in its last throes!) administration. Unfortunately democratic foreign policy experts are not providing them either.

Update: Anne-Marie Slaughter writes a must-read followup to the Lindsay post.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Another "typical" reflection over at America Abroad - this time by Ivo Daalder - on the need to come up with a Democratic "credible alternative" to Bush's foreign policy. I've been hearing various arguments on this topic from Democrats for a long time and it is tiresome.

For one thing, we need to be precise about why we need a "credible alternative." Daalder writes,

For the most part, Democrats have been good at criticizing the administration for its multiple failures -- ignoring intelligence that suggested the WMD threat was much less dire than officially depicted, botching the diplomacy in the lead-up to the war, failing to plan for its aftermath, refusing to send enough troops to secure the country after the war, and refusing to bring in the rest of the world to help rebuild Iraq. All these were and are valid criticisms. But as John Kerry found out, they never added up to a credible alternative to Bush's policies.
Daalder then proceeds to vet some arguments about which options in Iraq will be succesful on the ground.

I think it is quite a stretch of the imaginagtion to say that Kerry lost because his criticisms did not amound to a "credible alternative." This is not nitpicking; rather, this goes to the heart of the reason why Democrats need to formulate a credible alternative. There are two reasons. The first is electoral; the second is intellectual.

It might be argued that electorally, the Democrats need a catchphrase or a grand vision they can communicate to the voters. This is how Daalder justifies his essay; but then, after his initial justification, he completely forgets the election politics and begins to consider whether this or that strategy would be succesful on the ground. But this, of course, is irrelevant. If you are interested in selling a set of strategies to your typical apathetic voter, it is more or less irrelevant whether they would work in practice. Presidents rarely take flack for deviating from their campaign rhetoric on foreign policy.

On the other hand, intellectually, there is no need for Democrats to come up with a grand vision. In reality, there is little disagreement for the moment between Democrats and Republicans on how to proceed. Any president would do well to defer military policies in Iraq to the commanders on the ground. Beyond that, there is little to say: exit strategy good, early withdrawal bad, training Iraqis good, elections good, insurgents bad. That pretty much covers it.

The point is, there is nothing intellectually wrong with saying Democrats support Bush's current foreign policy, minus the lying, minus the fuckups, with a slightly more idealistic mix of democracy promotion vs. realism, and a greater desire to cooperate with other nations.

Now this may not play well with the voters and if you'd like to spend your days figuring out how to be a salesman for a "Democratic foreign policy," be my guest. But its simply confused to use electoral politics to justify the need for a new approach, as Daalder does, and then proceed to give a purely intellectual analysis without bothering to think at how it will play with the voters.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Via Transcontatlantic Relations, I notice that a video of George Galloway's entire testimony is available on the BBC site. Its like watching Alien vs. Predator.

This reflection, by princeton's John Ikenberry, seems to me to be pretty typical of the stuff Democratic-leaning intellectuals produce when considering Bush foreign policy. Click through at your own risk to read a comparison of Bush's efforts with those of Wilson, FDR, Kennedy, Truman, Clinton; Ikeberry pinpoints the difference to Bush's belief that democracy promotion is sufficient without the need to build a "liberal international order" (i.e. Wilson's League of Nations, Truman's UN, and the efforts of others on the list to build institutions that cement ties across democracies).

The problem with this is that Bush does not have a coherent foreign policy, and its wrong to analyze it as such. In particular, Bush's policy encompasses two somewhat contradictory strands.

The first is simple isolationism. This is the stance taken by Bush when he ran for president, repeatedly criticizing Clinton's nation-building efforts and arguing that America's forces are overdeployed, and need to be committed only with the intent to win military (not political) conflicts. Remember Condoleeza Rice's big statement at the Republican convention that "America's armed forces are not a global police force; they are not the world's 911."

The second is an interventionalist ethic that Bush discovered after 9/11. This completely negated what Bush ran on in 2000. Moreover, in the aftermath of the Iraq war, when it was discovered that Iraqi WMDs did not exist, and Iraqi connections to Al-Qaeda were tenuous, democracy promotion became the primary rationale used to justify the Iraqi intervention. In time, it acquired a life of its own - and why shouldn't it? Every president in recent times has engaged in a mix of democracy promotion and realism.

And so US foreign policy is a curious mix of factors, some left over from Bush's 2000 campaign, and some adopted after 9/11: an allergy to international treaties, a distrust of international institutions, an indifference to the decline of American influence ("soft power") in most places around the world, and enthusiastic efforts to commit hundreds of thousands of troops in an effort at democracy promotion. There is no reason to treat these trends as part of an organic whole. While I appreciate the efforts of Ikenberry to show the underlying contradictions within this belief system, I think any analysis of this sort must be primarily informed by how exactly these strands came to coexist in the first place.

This sounds so appealing I can hardly resist. After all, who doesn't like study groups?

This is great.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Dean has uttered in recent weeks that many Republicans have been quick to condemn and many Democrats have been just as quick to disassociate themselves from. Among other things, Dean has said that he hates "Republicans and everything they stand for," that many of them "have never made an honest living in the lives," that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay "ought to go back to Houston where he can serve his jail sentence" and -- most recently -- that Republicans are "pretty much a white Christian party."

from the Post. I fail to see whats wrong with the last two - the last one is a statistically verifiable statement (see here) , the one before that hardly inappropriate given the scandals that have engulfed DeLay. But the first two are just plain ridiculous.

Now, I've heard some people say that the statements were taken out of context - but I for one am content to believe that a statement that the Post cites as a fact is actually a fact.

Back when Dean first snagged the DNC chair over the objections of every Democrat on the national stage, I tried to be hopeful. But now it seems clear that the longer Dean stays on, the more incoherent blatherings he will spout, and the more damage he will do to the party.

Is there any way to kick out a DNC chair?

William Saletan writes in his Slate column,

NARAL certainly has its back to the wall. According to the poll, only 22 percent of Americans say abortions should be "generally available." Another 26 percent say "regulation of abortion is necessary, although it should remain legal in many circumstances." That's a pro-choice total of just 48 percent, even when you phrase the second option to emphasize regulation. Thirty-nine percent say "abortion should be legal only in the most extreme cases," such as rape and incest, and 11 percent say all abortions should be illegal. That's 50 percent support for two hardcore pro-life positions. I've seen polls that offered rape/incest as the middle of three options, but I've never seen a poll that offered a fourth, moderate option ("regulation is necessary") and still showed 50 percent saying that didn't go far enough. These are grim numbers for the pro-choice folks.

Saletan misrepresents the public opinion on abortion. I haven't seen the particular poll he refers to, but generally polls on abortion do not produce "grim numbers" for the pro-choice folks. Browse the abortion page at polling report.

In the most recent polls, given three options - abortion should be always illegal, illegal except in the case of rape, incest, or the woman's life, or left to a woman and her doctor - 55% choose the "woman and her doctor" option, 2% are unsure, and the remaining 43% is split between the two pro-life options.

Alternatively, asked if they are pro-life or pro-choice, 48% say they are pro-choice and 44% are pro-life. Moroever, these numbers have stayed more or less constant over the past few years. The country is not, as Saletan claims, bearing right.

Interestingly, the data reveals that while the percentage of people who identify with any given substantive position on abortion has changed little time, the percentage that identify themselves as pro-life or pro-choice has fluctuated.

I imagine that by now everyone has heard about the creation of lesbian fruitflies:

"We have shown that a single gene in the fruit fly is sufficient to determine all aspects of the flies' sexual orientation and behavior," said the paper's lead author, Dr. Barry Dickson, senior scientist at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. "It's very surprising.

"What it tells us is that instinctive behaviors can be specified by genetic programs, just like the morphologic development of an organ or a nose."

The results are certain to prove influential in debates about whether genes or environment determine who we are, how we act and, especially, our sexual orientation, although it is not clear now if there is a similar master sexual gene for humans.

Still, experts said they were both awed and shocked by the findings. "The results are so clean and compelling, the whole field of the genetic roots of behavior is moved forward tremendously by this work," said Dr. Michael Weiss, chairman of the department of biochemistry at Case Western Reserve University. "Hopefully this will take the discussion about sexual preferences out of the realm of morality and put it in the realm of science."

David Velleman has some interesting comments.

...studies also exclude the hypothesis that sexual orientation is fully determined by genetics. To begin with, virtually all research on sexual orientation relies on something like the "Kinsey scale", which measures orientation on a seven-point scale (0 to 6). The lay conception of homosexuality as an all-or-nothing trait has no basis in scientific observation. And the best-designed studies of identical twins have found that in over two-thirds of the pairs that include a homosexual twin (scoring 1 or higher on the Kinsey scale), the other twin is not homosexual. This finding decisively rules out the possibility that sexual orientation is genetically determined, though further statistical analysis shows that it is indeed significantly influenced by genetic inheritance.

In short, we aren't going to discover a "gay gene" -- not even a constellation of "gay genes" -- though we probably will discover genes that influence sexual preference.
This is either wrong or merely imprecisely phrased. The possibility of a "gay gene" has not been ruled out. It may be possible, for example, that holders of a "gay gene" are gay with 100% certainty, but those who do not possess it can still become gay with some nonzero probability. Then, you would have the sort of result produced in the study Velleman cites, where not all twins have the same sexual orientation.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger
-- Hermann Goering, at the Nuremberg trials.

Criticizing and undermining the president weakens the war on terror
-- "Reverend Russell Johnson of the Fairfield Christian Church in Lancaster, Ohio, a leader of the Restoration Project, a group that was born out of the last election," speaking about the Democrat filibuster of judges, quoted in this weeks IHT.

See also here.

The increasing prevalence of the "criticism is treason" argument coming from the right is, in my opinion, one of the most worrisome trends in American democarcy.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

After looking at a profile of someone who put every single Dickens novel under "Favorite Books," I've warmed up to the notion of the book/movie lists conveying useful information. Accordingly, I've updated mine (over on the right).

Friday, June 10, 2005

Brian Leiter, commenting on the modern rejection of the empirical claims of Marxism, writes:

But what empirical evidence, it may fairly be asked, is there in favor of Marx’s theory? To start, of course, there is the enormous and impressive historical literature employing a Marxian framework to make explanatory sense of historical events. Perhaps more striking is the accuracy of many of Marx’s best-known qualitative predictions about the tendencies of capitalist development: capitalism continues to conquer the globe; its effect is the gradual erasure of cultural and regional identities; growing economic inequality is the norm in the advanced capitalist societies; where capitalism triumphs, market norms gradually dominate all spheres of life, public and private; class position continues to be the defining determinant of political outlook; the dominant class dominates the political process which, in turn, does its bidding; and so on. To be sure, there are striking predictive failures in the Marxian corpus like the labor theory of value, the theory of the falling rate of profit, or his mistaken views about timing.

Each claim is equipped with a footnote with the relevant evidence. Let's go through these.

To start, of course, there is the enormous and impressive historical literature employing a Marxian framework to make explanatory sense of historical events.

It is unclear whether this is a testament to the predictive power of Marxism, or to the propensity of academics, and Academic Marxists in particular, to write books applying their pet approaches to history.

The rest of the claims we can divide into two parts: the plainly false claims, the unclear claims, and the commonly agreed on claims.

Let's begin with the plainly false.

...growing economic inequality is the norm in the advanced capitalist societies

The footnote supporting this is
See Frank Levy and Richard Murnane, “U.S. Earnings Levels and Earnings Inequality: A Review of Recent Trends and Proposed Explanations,” Journal of Economic Literature 30 (1992): 1333-1381, and, more generally, Edward Wolff, Top Heavy: The Increasing Inequality of Wealth in America and What Can Be Done About It (New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1995). And for a more recent, popular treatment, see Paul Krugman, “For Richer: How the Permissive Capitalism of the Boom Destroyed America’s Equality,” New York Times Magazine (October 20, 2002), pp. 62 ff.

I wonder if Leiter has read all the items he cites. Indeed, growing economic inequality has not been the norm in America. From the times of the new deal, America had become more equal; this fact is amply documented in the the "popular treatment" of Paul Krugman (see here) that Leiter cites. Krugman's point is that the recent growth in US inequality since the 80s is not typical of the US capitalist experience.

But even the recent US experience is far from the norm among industrialized societies. This analysis of the experience of five industrialized nations shows that, in fact, Sweden and Germany has remained the same from the 1970's to the mid 1990's in terms of inequality; Canada has actually become more equal; while the US and the UK have become more unequal. In short, its simply untrue that "growing economic inequality is the norm in the advanced capitalist societies," as Leiter claims.

Next, Leiter writes,
...class position continues to be the defining determinant of political outlook

and in support cites,

See, e.g., Eric Mann, “’Foreign Aid’ for Los Angeles: Three Myths of Urban Renewal,” New York Times (May 1, 1993), p. A23 (“Elect a black mayor. In 1973, a multiracial movement elected Tom Bradley, a moderate who promised jobs and justice. The Bradley legacy has been a revitalized downtown business district, the transformation of the mayor’s office into an adjunct to the Chamber of Commerce and the polarization of wealth and poverty. At every major juncture, the Bradley administration sided with privilege and against the poor”); Katha Pollitt, “Subject to Debate,” The Nation (December 4, 1995), p. 697 (“The truth is, except on a few high-profile issues--abortion rights, sexual harassment, violence against women--electoral feminism is a pretty pallid affair: a little more money for breast cancer research here, a boost for women business owners there. The main job of the women is the same as that of the men: playing toward the center, amassing campaign funds, keeping business and big donors happy, and currying favor with the leadership in hopes of receiving plums”). For one scholarly treatment, see Clem Brooks and David Brady, “Income, Economic Voting, and Long-Term Political Change in the U.S., 1952-1996,” Social Forces 77 (1999): 1339-1374.
Any careful reader will note the rather larger disconnect between the claims and the evidence provided for them. A black mayor takes some stances some progressives don't like! Feminists try to curry favor with the leadership! The scholarly treatment cited by Leiter also says nothing of the kind. What it does say is the following:

...cumulative changes in mean household income have had a very large effect on the outcome of presidential elections since the 1950s...we discuss the contributions of this study to understanding income as an important but underappreciated source of political change in the U.S.
At no point does it claim that class position is the "defining" determinant of political outlook. Further, merely because Americans tend to vote for the incumbent President if the economy has improved his administration, it does not follow that it is class that determines the outcome.

Incidentally, looking at the exit polls of the last two elections, we see that church attendance has been as good or better determinant of political affiliation.

Next, the unclear claims, Leiter writes,

the dominant class dominates the political process which, in turn, does its bidding

Whether any of these things are taking place now, more than before, is questionable. The dominant class always has always had influence on the political process, by virtue of their money, influence, and interests (compared to the apathetic voter). Whether this is true now, more so than before, is questionable and none of the books/articles Leiter cites make the case.

the gradual erasure of cultural and regional identities...
Similarly, cultures are always getting erased, due to war, migration, and so on; they also evolve due to the progress of technology, contact with other cultures, and so on. One would expect this process to speed up with the progress of technology and the increased contact between different parts of the globe. In this case, Leiter actually does cite a source that supports what he was written ( a rare occurence indeed), George Ritzer's The Globalization of Nothing. But Ritzer's opinion is not a majority one, and whether capitalism per se has increased the erasure (rather than evolution) of cultural identities is unclear - others argue differently. In short, Leiter's supporting evidence here is as disputed as the original thesis.

As for the rest of what Leiter writes,

capitalism continues to conquer the globe; where capitalism triumphs, market norms gradually dominate all spheres of life, public and private

it is, in some sense, commonly agreed on. You do not need to be a Marxist to believe in these two statements (or, indeed, even in those that I labelled unclear or false). Pretty much every theory that tends to look at capitalism in a positive light will predict that it will spread; and that its spread will cause cultures and nations to evolve. Whether any of it can be cited as a testament to the predictive power of Marxism is doubtful, to say the least.

Dan Drezner writes something stupid:

on the decreasing frequency of warfare, he writes:

U.S. hegemony important to the reduction of conflict in two ways. First, U.S. power can act as a powerful if imperfect constraint on pairs of enduring rivals (Greece-Turkey, India-Pakistan) that contemplate war on a regular basis. It can't stop every conflict, but it can blunt a lot ofthem. Second, and more important to Easterbrook's thesis, U.S. supremacy in conventional military affairs prevents other middle-range states -- China, Russia, India, Great Britain, France, etc. -- from challenging the U.S. or each other in a war. It would be suicide for anyone to fight a war with the U.S., and if any of these countries waged a war with each other, the prospect of U.S. intervention would be equally daunting.

Of course, the US cannot even interfere in Darfur, where a genocide is going on, or in North Korea, which has directly challenged the US. The idea that it would interefere in a war between "China, Russia, India, Great Britain, France" is plainly ridiculous. Notice the evidence-less presentation: thats what happens when one mindlessly applies theories without stopping to consider whether they apply.

A year ago, in one my first posts to this blog, I argued:

Consider the results of the Pew poll which came out yesterday. In response to the question "Do you think the U.S. should keep military troops in Iraq until a stable government is established there, or do you think the U.S. should bring its troops home as soon as possible?" 53% of the people said they supported keeping the troups in Iraq and 40% said they supported bringing them home as soon as possible. Moreover, support for keeping troups in Iraq has decreased over time; the first time the Pew poll ran this question in Sept 2003, 64% supported keeping troups in Iraq as long as it takes.

So: we have reached the point where two-fifths of the American public want their troops brought home as soon as possible, regardless of the situation in Iraq.

More importantly:support for bringing the troops home immediately can only increase. Can you think of event that will shore up support for the war? What could possibly happen to those who think our troops need to be brought home immediately change their minds? On the other hand, more violence in Iraq, continued over a large period of time, will make the 53% of the people who do support keeping the troops change their opinion. The numbers support this analysis: support for bringing the troops home has slowly but consistently increased over the nine months.

It is a war of wills. The terrorists realize that they do not need to defeat us militarily; they only need to create carnage and chaos for a sufficiently large period of time until the majority of Americans want to bring the troops home. Is the will of the American people greater than the will of the terrorists?

Not in this case. Now that no WMDs have been found, Bush can offer no coherent rationale for staying in Iraq except to help the Iraqi people create a democracy. So the primary reason to stay in Iraq is humanitarian;but the American people had no stomach for this in Somalia -- why should this case be any different? Call me a pessimist, but while I supported the Iraqi war from the beginning, and while I support staying in Iraq as long as it takes now, I just don't think the American public will be willing to tolerate Fallujah-type casualties for altruistic reasons.

I now believe my predictions may have, on the whole, been wrong. Nevertheless, they are dead on as far as American public opinion is concerned. Pollsters, unfortunately, seem to have stopped asking the public whether an early pullout is favored. Nevertheless, it seems that public opinion on Iraq has continued its relenentless slide towards negativity: 58% of the people believe the war has not been worth fighting; 73% feel the number of casualties has been unacceptable; and 65% believe the US has been bogged down; 65% believe the Bush administration does not have a clear plan.

Interestingly enough, the increase in anti-war beliefs of the American public has not lead to increased Democratic attacks based on this issue (or at least, I have not observed Democrats talking more about this in recent months). Perhaps, though, this will change as the 2006 election cycle approaches.

I do seem to have been wrong in believing that the gains for the anti-war crowd would proceed faster - I was guided by the Somalia example. But here the dynamics are not the same; even though Bush can offer no coherent rationale for the war, Republicans can still assail their critics for being soft on defense, which has proved to reasonate with the voters. Democrats are therefore more reluctant to speak on this issue, and change in public opinion takes considerably more time.

Further, it may be that there is a ceiling to the anti-war opinion. So long as the majorities who espouse anti-war opinions are not too large, Republicans may still continue to win elections (like Blair or Berlusconi).

Update: Kos cites a poll saying 59% of the public wants an early withdrawal/troop reduction.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Eugene Volokh has argued that people ought to be free to impose their moral view on others through law. More specifically, in the case of abortion, he writes:

But all judgments about when human beings acquire certain rights rest on unproven and unprovable moral calls.

...arguing that any law is an attempt to impose certain values, and consequently those who have strong feelings on a matter should feel free to force their opinion on the rest of us. The argument, Volokh says, applies to any issue, but is "clearer" in the case of abortion.

It is somewhat troubling that such a view has a significant following: a testament to the low level of political discourse in this country. I can only be glad that Volokh was not alive during the framing of our constitution, as presumably he would oppose the bill of rights ("Free speech? All law is an imposition of morality; if a majority thinks its wrong to criticize the President, why shouldn't they have their way? Freedom to assemble? But what if the majority believes large gatherings are immoral?" and so on).

It is a testament to Volokh's poor ability to think logically that he makes such arguments while calling himself a libertarian. Virtually any law can be justified by claiming that what it makes illegal is actually immoral - Volokh's libertarianism seems to involve giving the government absolute power.

Not every law is an imposition of morality. Every society requires laws - such as those against murder, theft, etc - that exist not because the aforementioned acts are wrong, but because these laws are the minimum needed for the society to survive. It could be argued that this is an imposition of a value - i.e. survival - and that may be so, but its hardly an imposition: this is the very reason why we have government. Those who do not shar this value are free to take no part in our social contract.

The question before us is simple. Do we want to live in a state where the government has the power to pass any law it wishes - or do we want to live in a free society where each citizen is free to decide moral matters for himself?

I hardly know what to say to people who (often without realizing it) defend nearly absolute government power in this manner. I'm sorry that you were not born centuries ago when people believed this?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

As I recall, the justification of the Iraq war had four parts.

- Iraqi WMDs

- Connections between Iraq and Al-Qaeda

- Bringing democracy to Iraq would fight terrorism.

- Humanitarian reasons.

I won't bother to address the first two - if you still think either of them passed muster, you need to watch less Fox News. As I noted before, there is no good evidence for the third one. As for the fourth one, the Lancet Study has documented the humanitarian nightmare that came out of the war: Iraq has a higher rate of death under the American occupation than under Saddam. The excess is the equivalent of (best estimate) 100,000 extra deaths for the first 18 months of the occupation, with the 95% confidence interval ranging from 8,000 - 200,0000.

So, yeah. Are there any justifications left that a reasonable supporter of the war can still cling to?

If there is one thing I can agree with Iran's hardliners on, its that socks are useful:
"My father used to get angry when he saw me wearing Western-made shoes," said Mohammad Ali Abtahi, the son of a senior cleric and a former vice president under Mr. Khatami. "Now he says it's all right, as long as I wear socks and the leather does not touch my skin."

Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Bush administration has repeatedly argued that the root cause of terrorism is political oppression, and that democracy in Iraq will result in decreased terrorism.

I'm wondering whether there is any actual evidence to support the idea that democracy results in decreased terrorism.

- Pakistan, before Musharaff's coup, was a democracy. It was also one of the most important sponsors of terrorism in the world. Its system of madrassas churned out a colossal number of extremists, and lets not forget that Pakistan is responsible for installing the Taliban in Afghanistan.

- Indonesia and the Philippines have some of the most active Islamic extremist movements in the world, and according to reports serve as the home of a large number of Al-Qaeda cells.

- We see terrorists freely operate in Afghanistan, conducting attacks on a weekly basis.

In summary, its not uncommon to see Islamic insurgencies in democratic states, and the only democratic Islamic state in recent history was one of the most succesful exporters of terrorism.

Now I believe a correlation exists between measures of terrorism and measures of political freedom. But this does not mean anything; indeed, the idea of democracy originated with a set of cultures that were not prone to terrorism (at least, not the kind of terrorism I am discussing here), so it is hardly surprising that such a correlation is there. Even if correlation did equal causation, it would not be clear from the data whether democracy results in less terrorism, or whether places not prone to terrorism are more likely to become democratic.

So I'll repeat the question: has any good evidence been provided that the spread of democracy is a good way to combat terrorism?

Thursday, June 02, 2005

What a bunch of nutjobs.