Universities on the dole

Jack Balkin had a good exchange with Juan Non-Volokh the other week on whether universities should receive public subsidies, an argument motivated partly by the idea that the government should have no role in judging ideas with political import and partly on the idea that the market can do it better.

I think its pretty safe to say, judging from how much per-student costs run at the most prestigious universities over and above the exorbitant tuitions that this is one of those situations that the market would slash to pieces. A good education is not synonymous with good economic results, although its outcomes certainly are.

As to the other question , the issue is the value judgment of ideas, and whether the government is required to abstain from judgment in intellectual work that it funds, or whether it should take a hands off approach to the whole enterprise. Balkin has the right idea:

The question is not whether government may not prefer some ideas or viewpoints over others, but what methods the government may properly use to prefer certain viewpoints and ideas or-- and this is a somewhat different objective-- to promote public expression, debate, and the exchange of viewpoints. In general, government may not punish people through criminal fines or civil penalties because of the viewpoints they express. This is the central meaning of the free speech guarantee in our Constitution. On this Glenn and I presumably would agree. But a healthy system of freedom of expression involves much more than securing this basic guarantee. It requires an educated populace and the opportunity for people to express themselves and participate in the culture in which they live. It requires a rich and vibrant public sphere. That public sphere will not be produced without government subsidy or government provision of important public goods. If government got out of that business entirely, we might still have a formal liberty of expression, because no one would be thrown in jail or fined for stating unpopular viewpoints. But our system of free expression would be much much poorer.

The government's commitment to freedom of expression is more than simply not jailing citizens for unpopular speech, it is the burden of creating spheres where public expression can be cultivated with full faith that it is the result of a democratic process. In a capitalist democracy, where money is given free rein to influence and promote ideas, it is imperative that we carve out certain spaces where 'good' ideas, the winners of pure intellectual inquiry and not the distorting effects of the market can be sheltered. Not to say that the market doesn't produce any good ideas, far from it, but the ideal market will isolate only thought that is synonymous with profitability, and democratic ideals dictate that we offer a counterweight to that process.

Another effect is similar but subtler: the dissemination of models for democratic exchange. It is generally agreed that the government has a responsibility to develop and maintain the integrity of the democracy beyond simply telling people where they should go to vote, i.e., ensuring candidates don't have unfair advantages over each other, that individuals' votes carry equal weight, and that elections proceed as honest contests of each candidate's merits. I'm not saying it always works, but that's the idea. The principles at play here are the basis for creating democratic outcomes, and the citizenry benefits by having these principles widely instilled in society, hence the founders' mandated right of association. By creating spheres based on these principles, the state encourages a broader segment of the population to retain its autonomy against tyranny, whether by the state or by powerful individuals. We see evidence of the adoption of these principles in examples such as ethical codes of journalism, professional associations which codify expertise, and labor unions (no, really).

When conservatives complain their ideas are not taken seriously, that all of these spheres are invalidated by fascist leftist cliques at their helms, and then argue the only way to restart democracy is to set up their own shadow institutions, they are demeaning democratic culture itself. When you unhinge the free flow of ideas from the spheres and standards which have been carefully nurtured for several centuries to ensure democratic debate, narrow political interest trumps the only mechanism we have to protect equal thought. The canard that these ideas are not 'represented equally' misses the whole idea of democratic outcomes. Democracy don't mean every idea is as good as every other. That's communism, guys. It merely means that controls are in place to encourage the best idea to emerge based on its merits. Its a system that doesn't brook sore losers well. I would agree with some conservatives that the excesses of identity politics in the academy has had some unfortunate effects, and I think the system is gradually stabilizing, as it is designed to do, following landmark shifts in consensus, as occurred following the cultural turmoil of the 60s and 70s.

This process, which is neither easy nor quick is nonetheless the best we have. That's democracy for you. When you look at the shadow institutions conservatives would replace the academy and the media with, and see them for the thinly veiled echo chambers they are, you realize just how little their complaints have to do with improving democracy. Rather, they are simply an ingenious ploy to circumvent fundamental institutions in the interest of one group's political agenda.


Does Scalia have a hunting problem?

It appears Justice Scalia has again jeopardized the integrity of his position by going on a hunting trip with a Kansas law school dean two weeks before the same dean successfully argued an important case before the Court. This on the heels of Scalia's now infamous duck hunting trip with Dick Cheney as the Court is considering whether to compel him to release the energy task force records. Scalia may think he can stop whenever he wants, but its apparent that we are dealing with a hunting pathology here. He would of course prefer not to tarnish his image, but when someone asks him if he wants to go blast some animals' heads off, he just can't resist.


Um, its a little more than semantics

Week in Review had a piece today perpetuating the idea, if not maliciously, that the difference between civil unions and marriage is just a question of words, and that the only thing separating the two states is some mysterious power in the word 'marriage.' Proponents of this argument who care about that difference infer that gay people, then, ask too much by insisting on calling their unions marriages when a civil union incorporating all the same benefits would do just as well and avoid a lot of undesirable fuss.

This is maybe the greatest (reasonable) myth in the gay marriage debate. One has only to ponder for a moment the opportunities for abuse, confusion and lawsuits until the end of time that a new category mirroring marriage but requiring a whole new universe of legal terminology would entail. The variety of institutions, companies and services which have some role in enforcing marriage status in our society is immense, and the process of ensuring every clerk in every hospital, every claim officer in every insurance company, every secretary in every elementary school in the country has an adequate and reliable understanding of what 'civil union' means is a highly improbable undertaking.

Civil unions are fine benchmarks, and there's a chance we will never get farther than that, but no one should be fooled into thinking that real equality is achievable by anything less than simply erasing the gender requirements of marriage applicants. Equality with different names is a joke, and it is quite disturbingly similar to the rhetoric surrounding school integration. And no, I don't think that is going too far. It is simply pointing out that the idea that you can get legal equality in practice while appeasing the social stigma causing the inequality is a fool's solution.

Job statistics

There's a new twist to the ongoing attempts of the administration to distort the unemployment picture by focusing on the discrepancies between DOL's two job statistics, the household survey and the payroll survey. As I've mentioned before, most economists think the payroll survey is the more accurate measure of unemployment, but the discrepancy between the two methodologies is still significant. Specifically, it suggests that the jobs replacing those lost in the recession are less secure and lower paying (the household survey simply asks respondents whether they are working, thus capturing any sort of paid labor, while a job must be documented on a company payroll to count on the payroll survey). Household survey partisans call this 'self employment' and praise the 'entrepreneurial spirit' which must be driving it.

I think 'off the books', 'under the table', or perhaps 'day-laborer' are probably closer to the truth. It's really quite remarkable that the self-employment trend among a narrow band of upper-middle class workers in intellectual fields can be so recklessly compared to the plight of a broad swath of middle class people who can't find steady jobs. What do these people expect us to believe? That laid-off textile workers are now writing columns and working on biotech startups? Honestly.

But regardless, there's now another reason not to discredit all that 'hand-wringing' about job loss just quite yet. The Federal Reserve has scrutinized the population estimates used to calculate total job loss from the household survey and found that recent population estimates have probably been overstated, thus inflating the data.

I've never been quite sure why the administration has been giving attention to this harebrained scheme. After months of albeit thin sympathy for the ranks of the unemployed, is he one day going to announce that the whole job loss thing was just a myth and that his administration actually has a kick-ass jobs record? They have to know that's not a viable contingency plan. Then again, they have tried erasing our collective memories before, to encouraging degrees of success. I can see the CNN crawl headline now: "White House to Unemployed: You actually do have a job"


Pink states vs. Red states

A brief note on the remarkable events in San Francisco this past week. The first thing that strikes me is the geography of this debate. Cities around the country (and the big companies headquartered there) have, of course, been moving steadily closer to gay marriage for years. Urban officials learned pretty quickly that the escalating fortunes of their cities throughout the nineties was due in no small part to the gay communities which provided a model for robust, organic urban renewal. They looked around and found that any of their constituencies who might have moral objections had all fled the to the suburbs years before, and began to partner openly and productively with gay communities. To shun such a valuable bloc of the population would have been ludicrous. And on a deeper level, urban officials accepted gay communities because they were remaking cities in a way people who loved the best of urban life could be proud of. In a way that most people 20 years ago didn't think possible. For the long version, see Richard Florida's work on the significant correlations between gay communities and urban prosperity.

The events in San Francisco serve to underline how the oft-mentioned red state-blue state divide is really just a proxy for the increasing urban vs. 'the rest' divide in America today. It somewhat correlates to states at large, but only in so far as those are densely urban states. The substantive issues of the divide are best exemplified by the cities themselves. The Bush administration has not been good for cities, psychologically or economically, and the cities are growing increasingly alienated on account of this. The hikes in local taxes, the decreasing wages and lower standards of living, all of these are more deeply felt by urbanites, and they are starting to look around and wonder how all these people in 'exurbs' can be so freakin' happy. Well, its not much of mystery. If your state voted for Gore in 2000, you're probably getting the short end of the stick today.

I think Gavin Newsom's decision is part and parcel of this geographic rancor, and I don't think he'll be the last to take this path. America's mayors have presided over remarkable transformations in their cities over the past 15 years, one of the few tangible 'miracles' of the 90s, and they are not about to watch one administration tear it all down. Big city mayors will have to ask themselves where their loyalties lie: in their relationships with the gay communities that have helped make cities vibrant again, or with a president and his moralist supporters from the boonies.


Askd hard kweschin

By way of the Koufax awards, don't miss this Atrios parody.

Schmitt on Edwards

Excellent Decembrist post on Edwards, Dean, and the swing voter vs. new voter dilemma here.

Scratch that...

See William Saletan's piece on Edwards' mathematical possibilities. Beyond all the hype and the resignation to Kerry as the nominee over the past few weeks, the fact is, I think, that Edwards is going to have his shot at the nomination. Edwards is just too good a candidate, with too appealing a message to wash out without getting a legitimate chance.

It's probably Kerry's fault more than anything. If there's one thing the media and interested electorate believe in this year, its that no candidate should be a lazy shoe in. There's just too much at stake, too much psychic pain hanging in the balance. And Kerry has yet to face up to a challenge. He has responded to needling during his frontrunnership with bland assurance--while that may be a good choice strategically, it leaves the primary voters remaining with a hollow feeling in the gut. Democrats have watched for 3+ years the sort of stuff Bush and his organization is made of, and many are unwilling to cut their losses for a guy that hasn't proved he can take the heat.

Mass psychoanalysis aside, there's something to be said for Edwards election chances against Kerry's. The last few weeks have proven that Kerry's foreign policy 'gravitas' is hardly secure; its clear the Republicans will make him pick up and dust off every medal he threw on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial one by one, while discrediting triple amputees in the process. That, plus the endless exhumation of his long Senate record which Bush operatives have gleefully promised makes one think twice whether anyone with a meaty public record won't just drown in the BushCheney'04 mire. Maybe its better to have a less target rich environment? Like someone with, say, minimal government experience?

Republicans have certainly made noise about Edwards trial lawyer career, but it seems a bit implausible as a candidacy busting issue. There's not much to say beyond, "He bled a lot of companies dry" and the Edwards campaign always has stories about sick little children to counter with. And I think the "he doesn't have a lot of experience" criticism is more an internal Democratic thing than a real liability (Silly liberals, always looking for a competent candidate). The campaign merely needs to point out that Bush had about the same amount of experience when he took office as Edwards, and the issue *should* be pretty much done for the press corps, although considering their track record, I wouldn't bet on it. Now, Edwards may have some big liabilities up his sleeve--frankly, he has been put through far less onerous a wringer than Kerry--but his contradictions will be harder to weed out and popularize, since I don't think you can Nexis North Carolina trial transcripts.


Kerry's next steps

See this Matthew Yglesias post on Kerry's vagueness on Iraq. I agree that he can wait out the primaries before going offensive (um, I hope) about what his real positions on the war are. No use wasting those headlines on stories about how Dean and Edwards may really, honestly, be done now. Beyond that, though, Kerry is going to need to do better than just equivocating about how he would have acted in Bush's position confronting the choice to go to war. That will only win you armchair general points, not the presidency. Kerry needs to radically change the debate by projecting what he WILL be doing as president in 2005...how he will be cleaning up what Bush has done, how he will move forward. Unless they have something up there sleaves, which, of course, is entirely possible, I'm not sure if the administration really has a new big idea about what they're going to do after Iraq. Especially since it appears they are going to be mopping up the fallout for a while. Kerry needs to play the bigger man here: Bush has made some mistakes and his policy isn't sustainable, but he has done some valuable things. I know how to take it to the next level, and I'll do it honestly and intelligently without screwing over the domestic economy.

The Washington Post editorial about Kerry's 'inconsistency' about Iraq over the years has been rightly criticized. The differences between the G1 invasion, the Clinton bombing, and the G2 invasion are pretty wide, and reliably voting to shoot missiles at Iraq is not the same as having a consistent position on the subject. In fact, as Gregg Easterbrook pointed out a little while ago, in enlightened foreign policy terms, the recent invasion looked a lot better (on paper at least) than the Gulf War.


Go Dobbs

Via Tapped, read this hilarious exchange between Lou Dobbs and all purpose ass James Glassman of TechCentralStation infamy. Dobbs lets loose on him something fierce over the U.S.' increasingly dismal trade situation. You can read the full transcript here (scroll down and look for the part with Glassman). Here's a little taste:

DOBBS: When you are carrying a half trillion dollar trade deficit, it's not benefiting both sides. That's precisely the point. If it were I would...

GLASSMAN: Of course it benefits both sides. The United States is the most...

DOBBS: Do you realize there are 3 trillion dollars in IOUs held by foreigners against U.S. assets? Does that trouble you.

GLASSMAN: The United States is the most robust economy in the world.

DOBBS: You can keep doing it.

GLASSMAN: Obviously, we have problems.

DOBBS: You talk like a cult member. There's a mantra, you say market, you say largest and dynamic.

GLASSMAN: I don't think I've said market yet.

DOBBS: And it simply removes the need for rationality.

And then later:

DOBBS: Here are the facts. Half a trillion dollars in a current account deficit. Hundreds of thousands of jobs being shipped overseas, as you acknowledge, by cheap labor costs.

GLASSMAN: I don't consider it shipped overseas. That's not what's happening.

DOBBS: You may not, that's my word. And the fact is, it is exactly what is happening and why you won't acknowledge that is beyond me. Where do you want the United States economy to be in ten years? You can't talk about jobs to retrain.

GLASSMAN: I want it to grow 3 to 4 percent a year as it has done in the past 20 years. Partly because...

DOBBS: And how much of the GDP do you want to be imports? How much of that GDP do you want to be imports?

GLASSMAN: I really don't know. I think that's up to individual Americans to determine how much do they want in imports.

DOBBS: Mr. Market...



Why do they still let this woman write newspaper columns? And with all the advances we we have made in opinion writing, for shame.

NYT today

William Broad has a good article in Week in Review today on international nonproliferation regimes, here. Also see below on this subject.


Oh goody

Bush has now come out with some tangible proposals for strengthening international nonproliferation agreements. How nice for us. After two and a half years of strict adherence the the name-calling/check out what I did to your friend school of nonproliferation strategy, Bush has decided that perhaps structural reform may not be such a bad idea after all. Of course, during this period Pakistani scientists were able to get away with spreading weapons technology and North Korea was able to go nuclear more or less unchecked by a decisive global response. But don't worry, its ok now.

See, the trouble with nuclear weapons is that they don't follow the same rules as conventional arms proliferation. Intimidation is a crude but not unreasonable strategy for keeping nasty countries' militaries in their place. By demonstrating the dominance of our F-16s, troops, and precision guided bombs, we send a message a war of attrition with our superior military would be a fool's contest. But a nuclear contest is not a war of attrition, it is a war of annihalation, where the use of a single nuclear weapon is an utterly unacceptable outcome for either side.

That's why early speculation about the bomb predicted that it would end war as we know it. And if one compares the unfathomable price of the World Wars to the conflagrations of today, it is clear that is basically the case. How that came to pass has little to do with conventional intimidation, however, and everything to do with hard fought diplomacy. The unacceptable prospect of mutual annihalation is such that standard military posturing, which of course leaves wide open the possibility that escalation may lead to real conflict, if that is the only possible resolution, no longer applies. We create diplomatic regimes that defuse the conflict and manage the mutual annihalation option rather than exploit it.


"He has treated fortune like a woman"

Maybe one of the best quips about the strange and dominating political talents of George W. Bush, from Jack Balkin, in a delightful and enlightening post on Bush as the "Mayberry Machiavelli." Paraphrasing Machiavelli he says:

...fortune favors the bold and impetuous, because by taking the offensive they have a greater chance of reshaping the situation to their advantage; acting agressively and forcefully requires others to respond to them and play their game.

Looking over the three years of the Bush Administration so far, it seems clear (to me at any rate) that Bush has followed Machiavelli's advice admirably. He has shown himself by nature bold and reckless; by acting decisively, and refusing to compromise, he has forced first Congress, and later the world to dance to his tune. His domestic policies show little concern for what tomorrow may bring; and his bold maneuver into Iraq was made heedless of the consequences of a long occupation. In conformity with Machiavelli's remarks on fortune, Bush has acted "less cautious, more violent, and with more audacity;" he has treated fortune like a woman. And he has brazenly dissembled whenever dissembling was required to promote his aims. This is the source of his considerable success.

This analysis goes well with another excellent post of Balkin's on why Bush's particular governing philsophy might best be termed "Free Lunch Conservatism."

Whatever ideological squabbles the left and right have had, the extraordinary past three years have at base been about one thing: the maintenance of power against all odds. That's why in the end Bush will burn both ideological liberals and conservatives (at least the kind that don't control large numbers of votes or dollars). Its harder for the conservatives to realize, of course, because Bush operated in their idiom for so long, and because his dismissal of their opponents was so ruthless and galvanizing.

But the cracks are starting to appear now. For the small government-ers, for the fiscal conservatives, for the military democratizers--all must face the fact that their ideological goals are utterly subservient to this administration's focus on maintaining its power. The remaining questions are whether 1) this crisis of conscience will really produce converts, and 2) whether an about face for the intellectual right will mean anything to the average voter.



So, this whole 'imminent' thing is getting ugly. Stephen Hayes in the Weekly Standard nicely sums up why liberals should not have gotten involved in that mess in the first place. He says:

It should not be terribly surprising or newsworthy even that the CIA never deemed Iraq an imminent threat. If agency analysts had ever concluded that an attack from Iraq was "about to occur" or "impending," to use the dictionary definition of imminent, it's fair to assume that they would have told the president forthwith, rather than holding the information for inclusion in a periodic assessment of threats. And the president would not have taken 18 months to act to protect the nation.

Yeah, no duh. Obviously that's not what people mean when they say 'imminent' in this case.

I know someone would have a field day with the fine points of this, but the question here is over the degree of imminence, i.e., are we talking the degree of imminence implied in the 2002 CIA intelligence estimate, which mentioned the possibility of WMD stockpiles, but put serious disclaimers on those finding? Or the degree of imminence expressed in the 2003 State of the Union, Colin Powell's trip to the UN, etc? Because, um, there were no disclaimers on those.

And later:

Many of the same people who criticized the Bush administration before the war for moving against a threat that was not imminent are today blaming the administration for supposedly having claimed that Iraq posed an imminent threat.

See, the rub here is that when people said to Bush, this threat is not imminent, they weren't using it as he does in his 2003 state of the Union:

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

He's saying the threat is not immediate. That we don't have reliable intelligence that Saddam is sending a nuke our way at this very moment. When you get away from 'immediate' and into 'imminent' (again, at least in the way those silly words have been used in this silly debate) we then have to include probabilities in addition to capabilities and compare it to cost. Although Hayes is playing fun games with the word 'imminent' the position he refers to is consistent: many examined the threat, listened to the questions raised about the priority evidence being raised, compared it to other pressing threats and measured it against cost, and decided no, this was not a threat we should raise to the 'imminent' spot at the very top of our list. This is not the single most pressing threat we have by a long shot. Now, those same people are saying the reasons we suspected the administration's case was overstated all along have been proven right.


Jerry Springer

Go listen to this "This American Life" segment I was recently alerted to. It's the story of Jerry Springer's brilliant political career in Ohio politics prior to becoming the "King of Trash TV" and it is aboslutely stunning. Don't laugh when I say this, but listening to the clips of Jerry Springer's political speeches in this segment will remind you just how shamefully devoid of poetry our current politics is. Springer, who continues to speak to Democratic organizations around Ohio, manages to be profound, honest, sensible and earnest in a way that no candidate has yet mastered this year. It will remind you why you became a Democrat in the first place. He's that good. Seriously. He still maintains a website leftover from his aborted 2002 Senate try at www.runjerryrun.com.


No rest for the wicked

Some ugly Al Gore-bashing in the New York Times today here. Leave it to the good ol' SCLM to find itself temporarily blinded to every aspect of a debate to indulge in a little snark at Gore's expense. Citing those everpresent "Some Democrats" Bumiller floats the idea that Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean was nothing more than a pathetically opporunistic stab at getting back in the game and trying to win in 2008. She also hints that Gore's endorsement took Dean 'on a confusing journey from Mr. Outside to Mr. Inside' that was the beginning of the end. Since she insinuates in the first graf that Gore's endorsement was the 'political kiss of death' for Dean, its pretty safe to read this 'journey' as being slowly destroyed and made a laughing stock by Gore's very presence. No mention of the fact that in polls Gore still does the best of any named Democrat against George Bush. No mention of the fact that the CW now is largely that Dean never became 'establishment' enough, as borne out by voters in Iowa, NH, Feb 3rd, etc. Finally, by the end, Bumiller has found some professor in Tennessee to level the charge that the people of Tennessee hate Gore because he was not chivalrous to Joe Lieberman in endorsing Dean. Indeed, I'm sure that very well may be the sentiment among all 4,000 Tennesseeans who knew who Howard Dean was in November. Truly, the media's disdain for Al Gore knows no bounds. I sort of understood why it existed during and after the 2000 campaign, as wrong as it was, but why it continues today is just baffling.

Just for the record, Gore has made a series of speeches in New York over the past six months, including the two sponsored by Moveon and one at the New School's 'FEAR' conference the other day. They have, I'm told, been very evenhanded and eloquent indictments of why the Bush administration's policies are wrong for the country. The sort of speeches that other Democrats wish they were making but never actually do, lest they become completely marginalized. At the time, Gore's endorsement of Dean dovetailed perfectly with the sort of voice he was developing in the party. There was no evidence of opportunism, of playing politics, or of inflating his own ego. They were simply courageous actions of the sort befitting a man with his status in the party.


Willful ignorance

Regarding the latest administration mind games over who reported what about WMDs before the invasion, Krugman says it best:

Do you remember when the C.I.A. was reviled by hawks because its analysts were reluctant to present a sufficiently alarming picture of the Iraqi threat? Your memories are no longer operative. On or about last Saturday, history was revised: see, it's the C.I.A.'s fault that the threat was overstated. Given its warnings, the administration had no choice but to invade.

One of the biggest questions here is where the press is in all of this. Objective as always. I don't think there's really any way around the fact that the same sources reporters were quoting before the war saying that the CIA was crap and too politicized must now be telling the same reporters the exact opposite story. It seems this would be a good time for that whole independent prerogative of the media thing to kick in. Then again, maybe I missed the memo dictating that the news is actually just an opportunity for press releases to fight to the death.


Check out Eric Alterman's shadow cabinet picks:

Secretary of State: Wesley Clark or Anthony Zinni, if Clark is on the ticket.
Adviser for National Security: Anthony Zinni if he’s not Secretary of State
Secretary of Defense: Max Cleland
Chairman of the Federal Reserve: Joseph Stiglitz
Director of the CIA: Joseph Wilson
Secretary of the Treasury: Laura Tyson
Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers: Paul Krugman
Attorney General: Elliot Spitzer
Secretary of the Interior: Gary Hart
UN Representative: John Lewis
Ambassador to Niger: Paul Wolfowitz
Ambassador to Mars, George W. Bush
Ambassador to Venus, Ralph Nader.
Chairman of the Democratic Party: Howard Dean


Good for him

Looks like George Tenet isn't rolling over this time. He is sticking to the circumstantial case for ousting Saddam, which on paper still doesn't look so bad, while standing by the CIA's inconclusive findings of WMDs in Iraq before the war. This is a strong, valid position for him to take and I hope he doesn't get steamrolled on it. There should be no question about what the intelligence establishment's conclusions (or lack thereof) were about Iraq's threat. It must be up to the President to explain why, if we had the CIA's estimate all along, he should have to 'admit' there was an intelligence failure, or, more to the point, the appearance of one.

The problem, I am coming to realize, is that the Iraq war was sold on too many levels--as too many different animals if you will. The human rights asserting- democracy promoting intervention type, which I still have sympathy for, is an intervention of fundamentally different character than the self-defense, shoot before they shoot you intervention. The reason alliances are created for the former (real alliances, not the U.S. and Britain + a handful of troops and no cash from a bunch of brown nosing poor nations) is because this intervention is a new very delicate sort of use for national militaries, one that we are still learning to do right. To invade a sovereign nation by force without provocation or overriding self-interest flies in the face of the crude but fundamental principle of world stability. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be done, but it has to be done right, it has to earnestly desire legitimacy, and it has to be coupled with a winning moral argument. Not trying to win, but actually winning. Note that this doesn't signal we have to go through the UN by any means...that body is valuable but not suited to every situation.

That is very different from the latter type of intervention, which is the most basic form of national defense short of *directly* responding to an attack. The rules and objectives here have little in common with the first sort of engagement. The goal is to quickly and decisively smash the offending country's capacity to attack. The outcome, at a bare minimum, is to ensure whatever form of government remains is loyal to you. One would certainly hope not to install a government that bred too much instability, but the fundamental mission only aims for containment of the threat.

The problem with trying to sell a war based on both these arguments at the same time is that the reasons needed to justify each are radically different. The humanitarian intervention isn't a success unless you produce some positive path for that country. Almost by definition, it assumes an indefinite occupation period and continued surveillance and involvement in that country's affairs. That's why international institutions are useful. Because they guarantee that cost, risk and a continuing presence will be shared. When engagement is not provoked by indisputable national interest, these burdens are often far too great for one nation, even the U.S., to sustain internally. Internal politics, funding priorities, and popular support are all bound to change in the short term. These dynamics have little in common with the single mindededness rallied in defense of national interests, the public expectation that a single objective will be achieved and sustained, regardless of cost or internal politics.

The Bush administration tried to have it both ways, a clever marketing ploy, but ultimately detrimental to either argument.

Spillover effect

Kevin Drum has an interesting post about further investigating the democracy 'spillover' effect which I've mentioned before (here). He quotes an LA Times oped that shows countries in which the U.S. has intervened are actually less likely to make democratic improvements than their immediate neighbors. The question then becomes twofold: are countries in which the U.S. has intervened slower to gain democracy than their neighbors because of the immediate effects of intervention? And, how much cause and effect can we see in the neighboring countries, i.e., were they on a path to democracy that wasn't necessarily affected by the U.S. action? These questions are probably too difficult to answer based on evidence--the variation of experience among the 35 countries with histories of U.S. intervention the study examines are most likely too different to make concrete conclusions about. However, it brings up the interesting idea that perhaps the "we need to smash the terrorist state, its the only way to effect change" and the "give the Middle Easterners a clean slate and they will go democratic" arguments are at odds. As far as the Iraq goes, specifically, citizens are no doubt better off than they were under Saddam Hussein. But we know this. If that was our rationale for going to war there are a slew of other countries we should be hitting, too. What was special about the grand argument for Iraq invasion had to do with the 'reverse domino effect' Iraq's liberation would have on the culture of terror and fundamentalism that has grown up in the Middle East over the past decade and beyond. But the LA times op-ed goes to show that in the long run, these actions aren't decidedly correlated with democratic outcomes. One especially important point involves the fact that warmaking has to take into account strategic aims. Its just useless to advance major military action without thinking that the balance of power it provokes will be good for the provocateur. However, that tactic has some fundamental differences with the sort of principles and power relations fundamental to a democratic state. Namely, we can't help but promote a government with our interests in hand (as long as we can exert meaningful pressure) and that, in and of itself is jeopardizing the legitimacy required for a meaningful democratic debate. Again, I'm not saying there aren't arguments for this, or that these arrangements can't sometimes be more useful. But if the Bush administration is going to throw the WMD rationale out the window and focus on the human rights benefits, a calculation of those risks and rewards is more than warranted. Indeed, the issue deserves special scrutiny precisely because it is such a qualitative mission.

And another thing. Its all well and good to say you'll see this experiment through, but from the groveling Bush and team have been doing before the UN lately, it looks like they are banking on getting Iraq out of the headlines before the November election. The sad truth is, if American soldiers start leaving and the UN takes over, Iraq coverage may go the way of Afghanistan. Hard to believe, but its quite plausible now, and the Democratic candidate will have to stay tough on this point through to the bitter end or risk losing all on national security issues.


A proposition

A cookie to anyone who can tell me what is going on in David Brooks' column from Tuesday. It seems he is proposing a dichotomy whereby rational thought, as exemplified by the CIA and other intelligence outfits, opposes irrational thought as exemplified by the Bush administration and their government backers in the Iraq war. The former, with its reliance on science and protocol has proved incapable of fully comprehending the ever-ephemeral, fluid terrorist threat, while the latter possesses an intuition beyond the realm of crass knowledge, an intuition ideally suited to engaging and communing with the full implications and unpredictable behavior of said threat.

Or some shit like that. Really, I don't know where he gets this stuff. Suffice it to say, he means: we really wanted to think they had nukes, but they didn't have nukes at all, but we're still right. Don't know why they had to go wasting trees for that.

I'll take Nixon

Mark Schmitt follows up on his discussion of why the Bush administration is NOT like the Nixon administration here.


Arts funding

Response on NEA funding from reader AE, and my response following.

She writes:

I totally disagree with your analysis of Bush's maneuvering vis-a-vis the NEA. Some fun facts to know and share:

The NEA was was established as the agency it is today (or at least as the agency whose gutting we mourn) by Nixon, of all people, who increased its budget from about 30 million to 130 million.

Arts funding was about 30 million higher under Regan it was under Clinton I and reached its nadir under Clinton II (looong after invocation of the NEA four became passe, I might add.)

The degeneracy of the NEA was made into a touchstone issue not by Regan/Bush et al, but by Buchanan. He used it to symbolize the elitism of the current Republican establishment, which just didn't understand that the common working man didn't care about all this esoteric shit and would prefer to spend their hard-earned dollars buying pick-up trucks than bankrolling dirty photos of fags fisting each other.

One might argue that these figures are due to the Republican
Executive/Democratic Congress split of recent years. It does seem like most opposition and debate around national arts funding has been historically centered in the congress.

However, under Bush II & Republican dominance of both branches, the NEA's budget has been quietly but steadily increasing, at least during the last three years that I've had a professional stake in knowing the numbers.

Locally, it seems that arts funding does not follow an ideological donkey/elephant divide. When faced with fiscal crises, governors and mayors of all political stripes have slashed arts budgets with impunity. Gray Davis virtually eliminated arts funding in CA, for example.

Anecdotally, while faced with the largest fiscal crisis in NYC since the
'70s, Bloomberg chose not to gut the Department of Cultural Affairs, cutting it's budget proportionately to other city agencies (by one fourth) WHILE quietly dumping 6 million dollars of his personal money into private philanthropy earmarked for small to midsized arts orgs.

In summation, this 'Democrats are friends of the arts, Republicans want to see its demise' argument really chaps my hide. Republicans are historically more controlling of the art they would like to see America pay for, but are (save the working man shit-kicker movement) great defenders of the civilizing power of art as a social good and willing to put out the dough.

In contrast, progressive politics tend to focus on social utility: go ahead and fist each other if that's how you want to express yourself (we like the gays and women and minorities), support our agenda, and we'll get around to funding you after, say, universal single-payer health care has been enacted.

Hey, want to make some art about universal single-payer health care? That would be swell. Maybe you could feature, oh say, me as the protagonist up against a hoard of fearsome Republican barbarians. They want to see the demise of art, you know...

AE makes a valuable point about Dems having no love for arts funding. One could tell a story about how liberals made a tough choice during the culture war years to cut their losses, and that the knee-jerk reaction--I don't waste political capital on art--has become ingrained in the people that might have supported federal funding before, and further validated the snarky left leaning-libertarian types who never really gave a shit. But, as she points out, history shows there's nothing in the Democratic gene pool necessarily dictating they should support arts funding. Just because artists themselves don't have a lot of money and are usually Democrats isn't the same thing. They aren't really a big constituency. But who cares anyway?

AE's point that the story of arts funding is better told through the Republican party is well taken. Let's all remember that before the GOP got hijacked by the far right, the neocons, and the Grover Norquists of the world, there was a kindler gentler brand of Republican that parlayed their natural strain of elitism (in the best sense of the word) into federal support for the arts, worked on reasonable solutions to keep social insurance programs solvent, and thought foreign policy should be pragmatic above all else. As many have shown, the deterioration of all these long held Republican positions didn't really start until the 90s. Reagan may have paid a lot of lip service to the fundamentalists, but as far as policy goes he retained a lot of the traditional Republican portfolio. Hence the deep divisions in the party that have arisen since the Gingrich revolution, as epitomized by Jim Jeffords' defection several years ago. The 'new' Republicans have browbeaten the ideological descendants of Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller (i.e. Bloomberg's adopted strain) to where they are either cowed beyond repair or simply invisible. They were undoubtedly horrified that the Gingrichs of the world were talking about the arts as the enemy of morality and civilization, but the pressure was too great, the electoral blackmail too powerful, and they pretty much relinquished their voice on arts funding and a host of other issues, not least of all, fiscal responsibility (although finally they are starting to speak up about that).

That said, I don't think George W. Bush can be seen as picking up exactly where that tradition of federal cultural support left off.

The rise of arts funding under his watch has not required any political risk, a clue to what the limits of this new rise might be. The dance of G2 and the Christian right is a delicate one. He has proved himself an expert at the calculus of keeping the far right wing's uglier side to a dull roar, at least in the same room, while quietly giving them enough big-ticket items to stay happy. The truth is, for these people voting for a Democrat is akin to pronouncing yourself an atheist. The details have to be worked out, but they aren't going anywhere on election day. Bush knows this, and has brought order to the 'winger tent decidedly absent during the Gingrich carnival.

Anyhow, the point I was trying to make in the earlier post is not that Bush's NEA increase is interesting because he's a Republican, but that it's interesting because he's Bush. His reclamation of the NEA is part and parcel of the larger strategy which has served him well so far: policies which look and sound progressive while actually being nothing of the sort. The revealing flip side of this is that while liberal (although in this case not owned by the Democrats) positions appear to have a lot of resonance with voters, the real liberals (whether Democrat or Republican) who would actually make an honest go at it have been outfoxed at getting any traction on them. The political utility of expanding the NEA for Bush is a different animal from traditional Republican support for the arts; you can get an idea of the outline by watching NRO lick its chops here.

Bush's NEA push has been about appealing to that broad swath of voters that go in for the 'compassion' juggernaut--sure they sympathized with Buchanan's screeching about federal funding for degenerates, but it got tired and a little scary, and government funding for Shakespeare tours and jazz concerts seems like a nice compromise. NEA funding works for Bush on many levels...he's got a loyal agency chief, an appeal to swing voters and another way to keep the Christian right in their place (publicly at least).

I guess the question then is, so what? Who cares where it comes from as long as federal arts funding finally has a friend in the White House after so many painful years of cuts? To some degree, I agree with this, and while it is not impervious to critique, I say more power to the administration on this one. But we shouldn't think that this is a total victory for federal arts support. For one, I don't trust for a minute that Bush will waste any time supporting this when his budget gets chewed up in Congress. I think its safe to say that, along with the whole raft of election year ploys that he has no money for, this has a very low chance of surviving. Where in previous years the conservative anti-arts funding forces might have deffered to him on anything, he's going to be a lot more vulnerable going into this budget battle.

Secondly, while more money is a good thing, the public relations campaign surrounding it is invariably going to be about 'nice' art and art for 'educational' purposes. Even if old guard Republicans found some funded work distasteful or only supported respectable work in other respects, they believed in the independence of funding decisions because they believed in the independence of government agencies. No such luck with Bush. Furthermore, there is little hope in the way of structural reforms, like resuscitating the much-needed but controversial grants for individual artists. Finally, in the long run, it can only serve to dampen artistic dialogue and breed self-censorship. A situation where 'good' artists can go to the government for money while 'bad' artists have to go elsewhere. That isn't about any blatant censorship or suppressing 'political' art, or those cards they made everyone sign about producing useful art, but the simple fact that when you try to score political points by publicly attaching value judgments to money intended for art, you can't help but create a climate where people adjust their thinking accordingly.

I'm not saying I won't take it, but it leaves a lot to be desired when compared to the age-old Republican record on arts funding.

Sodomite Ducks

Wonkette has some funniness about the scandal that still isn't: Cheney and Scalia going duck hunting as the Supreme Court is deciding whether to force Cheney to turn over the energy task force meeting notes. Do you think either even thought about it before? Was Cheney all, "Wait a minute Tony, I don't know, you are a Justice of the Supreme Court which is investigating me" and Scalia was all "Whatever man, its just some stupid duck hunting. Who has a problem with duck hunting?" Do they just not care? In any event, Wonkette:

Scalia has also attempted to quash suspicions that the trip was an play by the Veep to influence Scalia's decision in the case. "No, no, no," Scalia told reporters, "Of course Cheney's not trying to buy my vote! Do you think he's stupid? He only pays after the vote is cast. The duck hunting was just the final payment for throwing the election. When he takes me to the Vineyard in July, that will be the payback for the privacy decision." Besides, added Scalia, "We only shot the sodomite ducks."


Good one

Reluctant props to Thomas Friedman for this line in the column today:

And please don't tell me the tax cuts are working. Of course they're working! If you put this much stimulus into our economy — three tax cuts, loose monetary policy and out-of-control spending — it will produce a boom. Eat 10 chocolate bars at once and you'll also get a rush. But at what long-term cost?


More from budget fantasy island

The 13 percent increase for missile defense technology is yet another bonus in the new budget, WaPo reports here. Kevin Drum has this to say. I was going to make a joke about G2 getting frustrated at how tough diplomacy with the NKs is, and wouldn't it be easier just to shoot down their missiles before they get here. But apparently that's true. North Korea is the only live potential hostile threat with intercontinental missile capabilities right now. Please let's not pretend that missile defense has anything to do with terrorists' nuclear capabilities. If they get a nuke, you can be sure they are not going to waste time, money, and exposure building missile silos of all things. That's ridiculous.

So that means its North Korea. And the thought that this administration is entertaining with billions of dollars the notion that North Korea may actually fire a nuclear warhead at us is evidence itself of how utterly reckless the administration's pathological aversion to diplomatic solutions is. If we thought the NKs were set off by getting called evil in a speech, how much is pointing highly publicized 'defensive' missiles at them going to escalate this crisis? This is starting to get scary.

Through the lookingglass

Hmmm. Looks like budget fantasy land is starting to deteriorate a bit. Between the new CBO deficit projections and the new, much bigger estimate for the prescription drug bill (cuz, you know, the private health care sector is all efficient and shit), G2 is sobering after his new year spending proposal jag. And the list of reconsidered items is just for authorization levels, who knows how many of these the administration will balk at when appropriations time comes around? Hell, if recent experience is any guide, he could be well into a second term by the time this budget gets used, in which case he'll be able to balk at will.

BTW, what's up with the NEA funding increase? I'm so confused. Is he trying to piss off conservatives? Drive liberals mad with the contradictions so that they'll stop being so testy? Obviously, its really nice if that happens, but I just can't understand why he's trying to gain the support of the small subgroup of American liberals that still believe in arts funding. Does he know something about newfound resonance arts funding has with swing voters? Did someone feel that Richard Florida Washington Monthly article about the economic effects of the administration's anti-elitism was pointing out a critical weakness? Maybe he feels the pain of small opera companies and thinks the classical music world is becoming too top-heavy?

More likely, they are trying to clumsily cover their bases as they realize there is a perception of the administration as being too hard and war-obsessed. I am 99.9% certain that this will be forgotten almost immediately. But you have to admit, it is somewhat amusing to think of the moral crises of downtown companies who may owe their first chance at NEA grants in years to the nemesis of culture.

Coming to terms with the WMD scandal

So it begins. The White House has approved an independent commission to investigate intelligence failures leading up to the war. Bush feigning surprise and a little bit of wounded betrayal over how the CIA could get it so terribly wrong is an act of political opera buffo the likes of which come along only once in a great while. But rest assured even that will be put to shame by the spectacle of watching George Tenet resign while Bush stands by with an "I cleaned house good" look on his face.

And no, of course the details haven't been finalized yet about whether the commission will be limited to the CIA or whether it will include the White House too. They will wait for a while, then announce the fact that the White House will be exempt from submitting various innocuous sounding materials on a Friday afternoon in the vaguest language possible. Every high profile investigation that has requested documents from this White House has come up with nothing or met with stiff resistance. They're still fighting over those stupid energy task force meeting notes, for the love of god. Does anyone think they're going to start embracing fearless honesty now?

Indeed, the fact that they even qualified the announcement today is a travesty. It seemed like there was no confusion about whose integrity was on the line here. Congress and many other government officials have raised serious accusations not against CIA analysts, but against the White House, and that is where credibility needs to be restored. Even suggesting that this inquiry might be excluded from the White House when the inquiry is prompted by an action so intimately conceived and managed by the White House is absurd.

And yes, it is awfully convenient that this is coming at the same time as Richard Kerr's report saying CIA analysts didn't feel pressured by the White House to shape the reports. What Josh Marshall calls the 'CIA sold us a bill of goods' defense in his excellent rundown is already running at full steam, if everything works out correctly, the intelligence inquiry will be completely undermined before it even gets started. The expectation is that they will magically make everyone forget that the glaring contradiction that arose between what the administration was saying and the CIA evidence that existed was actually the start of the whole thing. No one has every accused the administration of putting direct pressure on the CIA...the problem has always been the administration 'cherry-picking' and developing independent intelligence sources loyal to it like Douglas Feith's Pentagon shop.

And finally, yes, this does still matter. This refrain is perhaps the most insulting yet. To suggest that there is some kind of statute of limitations on willfully misleading the country into a war that is still the roiling centerpiece of the national debate is such a transparent ploy to use schoolyard tactics, i.e., "Dude, are you still hung up on that? You have to chill, man" for policy gain. I think Congress has made it clear that it is capable of separating the work that needs to be done in Iraq from the President's intelligence scandal at home. Pushing the intelligence scandal through to its logical conclusion will have no bearing on what we do in Iraq, in fact it may even be beneficial, as the looming political crisis has always skewed postwar planning and timetables.