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June 24, 2003

The Economic Role of Government

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Kevin Drum at CalPundit has posted an interesting article on the role of the government in the economy. I have to say that I agree with everything he said, with one caveat: the government's intervention should be both limited and defined.

Completely free markets, without any external controls, are economic anarchy, no less than the lack of external controls on social behavior is political anarchy. No less than political anarchy leads often to political tyranny, as the strong sieze all of the real political power, so does economic anarchy lead to economic tyranny, as the rich and well-connected (and, normally, politically powerful) sieze all of the real economic power.

To prevent this, it is necessary to have external limiting mechanisms. The external controls for politics in the US were laid out in the Constitution: no direct taxes (limits Federal government's ability to raise funds, and thus its power); Senate must approve appointed officers and treaties, influences laws and budgets and has the sole power to remove a sitting President (all of which gave States the ability to limit Federal power); the States can call a Constitutional Convention at will; and as a final bulwark, the people have an unlimited right to own military arms. Of course, a combination of amendments and court decisions have limited and in some cases totally destroyed all of these limitations, except for the right of States to call a Convention.

The external controls for the economy were much less thoroughly documented in the Constitution. While power was given to the Federal government to regulate interstate commerce, and certain other powers (like not allowing a State to force traffic to pay excises at their ports just because it transits through the State's waterways) were also granted, these provisions were mainly intended to prevent interstate wars, rather than to actually regulate the economy. The only Constitutional provisions I can think of off the top of my head, which directly regulate the economy, were the ability to collect tarriffs and levy excises, to establish uniform weights and measures and to regulate the value of currency.

While I think that the government needs additional powers, not forseen by the Founders, I don't think that they should be available to the government except by amending the Constitution. Otherwise, the potential for abuse is too great. I think that we could come up with a list of such powers that the government needs:


  • establish a central bank - this is probably already justified by the power to coin money (and thus to regulate its value)
  • regulate the sale of shares in publically-owned companies - the justification being that these companies have exceptional government-granted rights, and thus should have corresponding duties to not cheat the public
  • prevention of monopolies from using their power to stifle competition, charge prices untenable in a competitive market, or force people to purchase unregulated products or services in order to get the products or services they need
  • regulation of non-property resources (air quality, water quality and transit, radio spectrum and the like) which are not subject to ordinary market forces (because the abuser does not bear the costs of his abuse)
  • regulating working conditions to prevent physical or psychological abuse (this would include child labor laws), or to prevent the coercion of workers to doing non-job-related activities (such as enforced political contributions); preventing discrimination based on age, color, gender and so on; ensuring the privacy of information entrusted to companies
  • prevention of the accumulation of wealth by limiting the amount of tangible property, cash and negotiable instruments to heirs.

      It would be nice if, for once, we would as a people actually give our government the powers we want it to have, rather than just letting the government assume those powers as it wishes. But I do think that the government needs to regulate the economy beyond the point that the Constitution currently allows.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      Demography

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      I think that most Americans feel a deep tie to Europe. Culturally, linguistically, ethnically and politically, we became what we are because of Europe more than anywhere else. That is why, I think, we're so annoyed when European nations act like weasels. It's also why this kind of article (link via ZenPundit) is scary to me, and would likely be scare to most Americans if it weren't the most significant under-reported story in the world.

      One study by William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington, predicts that the median age in the United States in 2050 will be 35.4, only a very slight increase from what it is now. In Europe, by contrast, it is expected to rise to 52.3 from 37.7.

      European populations are ageing because modern first-world medicine and nutrition allows the population to live longer, but the population is not replacing itself. In fact, according to the article I quoted, the fertility rate in Germany is only 1.34 children per woman. This means that each generation is some 2/3 the size of the generation that spawned it. Given Europe's generous pensions, this cannot continue indefinitely.

      The consequences of this will be huge: either significant additional immigration will have to be allowed, possibly leading to a European civil war within the next 20 to 50 years (since most of this immigration is from Arab nations with anti-liberal traditions, and by and large the immigrant populations are not being assimilated into the liberal European mainstream), or Europe's global political significance will shrink to the level of Brazil, while Europe's role changes into primarily a US vacation destination. Either way, as long as Europeans don't have more children, and fix their pension systems, there is no way to avoid some kind of large discontinuity some (historically short) time down the road.

      It is my hope that Europeans will get through this dangerous time in their history (I'm sure they see it differently) without it becoming a dark time in all of our histories.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      June 23, 2003

      The Noble Pundit

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      The Noble Pundit is former stockbroker Chris Noble's blog. There is so much excellent content on The Noble Pundit that it's hard to know where to start. To make things easy on myself, I'm only going to post excerpts of items posted between Monday June 2 and today, with the exception of the investing series.

      The investing series has 8 parts (so far), covering Fundamental Analysis (picking good investment choices), an addendum to the Fundamental Analysis post, Technical Analysis (deciding when to enter or exit a position), Options, The Economy and the Market, Market Mechanics, Mutual Funds, Asset Allocation, and Bonds. These eight posts have clarified a few concepts I was unclear on, and have simplified my understanding of some other points. I cannot recommend enough that you read the whole series.

      Post since Monday include (and this is not an exhaustive list):

      Aww. The Palestinians Are Disappointed, which discusses Palestinian reactions to the recent "roadmap" summit.

      Something Postive & French???, which provides a link to this Sabine Herold editorial on freedom as a human - rather than a specifically Western - concept. (It's short, but worth reading, and has some real gems in it.)

      Media Arrogance Or Military Failure? looks at journalistic navel gazing about the incident during the recent war where a US tank fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad.

      Oh, I Feel Much Safer Now looks at Russian involvement in the Iranian nuclear program, and includes this gem: "Giving Tehran a nuclear capability is like giving a drug addict free access to the police evidence rooms. Pretty soon all his friends will be there, everything will be gone and the neighborhood will be a more dangerous place.

      Two People In Two States? looks for the source of the Palestinian fantasy that Israel is the source of all Palestinian problems, while the Palestinians themselves are pure and noble. (HINT: It's the guy that tells kids to blow themselves up.)

      OK, I haven't even finished through yesterday yet. Go, read.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      Politics and Policy

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      The easiest way to tell when Kevin Drum's argument lacks substance is to look at what he presents to back it up. When he's got something plausible, even if its arguable or wrong, he presents statistics, or argues from history. When he's way off base, he just asserts:

      I don't expect Gabler's argument [that for Bush "politics seem less a means to policy than policy is a means to politics"] to mean anything to Bush supporters, of course, but I've felt this way about Bush almost from the beginning. He's a furious political animal who is uninterested in compromise and whose main goal is to defeat his enemies, not advance a cause. Ideology is actually secondary, and is useful mainly as a way to batter his political opposites.

      Actually, that criticism is better levelled at the Clinton, Johnson or Nixon administrations, all of which used policy as a weapon. For Bush, it's true that he has a very muted ideology, and so his policies are more political than idealistic. But it's not true that his policies are shaped as a political weapon. Rather, President Bush sets out major policy goals so as to leave the system in a better state than when he started.

      When Bush was first elected Governor, I voted for Ann Richards (who I still maintain was an excellent Governor, and who I am very glad never got into national office). Soon after his election, Governor Bush was asked by a reporter what his goals were. He listed five policy goals which he felt would correct real problems in Texas. The reporter asked Bush what he would do after that. Bush's answer was "Make sure those five get passed." Bush has always had that kind of focus (where always is defined as "at least since he ran for Governor"). Generally, he seems to pick a few policies which he really wants to get put through, and then bend every effort to getting them passed.

      In that sense, I suppose you could say Bush uses policy as a weapon, since he will compromise on any issue that he doesn't consider core in order to get his core policies through, but that's a really weak statement in comparison to the argument Kevin is trying to make. In particular, I think that President Bush used a very measured approach, at first, in trying to convince people to support the war effort. Once it was clear that certain groups (the Robert Byrd-led group of Democratic demagogues and the Axis of Weasels, for example) were not going to support Bush no matter what, and that other groups (moderate to conservative Republicans, a few Democrats like Zell Miller, the British and Australians) were going to support Bush, all of Bush's efforts went into protecting those who would support him and sidelining or minimizing those who would oppose him, all so that the President could win the assent of the undecided voters and countries.

      I do think that 2004 will be nasty, and certainly some of that will come from conservative groups. If the history of US politics since about 1984 is any guide, though, most of the worst offenses will come from left-wing groups and fringe Democratic candidates, along with a few ultra-rightists like Pat Buchanan.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      June 22, 2003

      Making Money

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      Chris at the Noble Pundit has been putting out essays on his experience as a stock trader. I am going to list them here, mostly for my own reference. That said, Chris has been putting out some wonderful work lately, and you should go read his blog.

      Part I - Fundamental Analysis (picking good choices)
      Part I addendum I
      Part II - Technical Analysis (deciding when to enter or exit a position)
      Part III - Options
      Part IV - The Economy and the Market
      Part V - Market Mechanics
      Part VI - Mutual Funds
      Part VII - Asset Allocation
      Part VIII - Bonds
      Part IX - Choosing Your Broker

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      June 19, 2003

      The State of Iraq

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      It seems to me that there is a perfectly reasonable solution about what to do with Iraq politically, which would settle for once and all the question of occupation, as well as giving our actions an unprecedented amount of legitimacy. We should announce that we will give the Iraqis the opportunity to become the 51st State.

      We will need to completely restore order, to the point of being able to ensure that political violence and intimidation would be minimized, conduct a census of the people of Iraq, and when both of these are complete, hold a referendum, which I imagine could be held within a year. If a majority of Iraqis vote to accept territoriality, then the United States would appoint a Governor, and would proceed to do everything necessary to prepare Iraq for statehood, including the establishment of all of the freedoms, structures and order that we have here, with local laws being decided by the Governor and such officials as he appoints. At this point, the US would assume Iraqi national debt and contracts, would begin the payment of such benefits and collection of such taxes as are appropriate to a territory, and would in all ways make Iraq as much a part of the US as is Guam or the US Virgin Islands. This would include the right of Iraqi registered voters to vote for President, and presumably for non-voting representatives (such as DC has).

      During the period of preparation, perhaps 10 years, we would also be conducting massive public education of both adults and near-adults in the theory of American governance. Part of this would be to progressively elect governments, starting at the local level and continuing up through an Iraqi legislature. At the end of this preparatory period, when a set of conditions made public before the conduct of the first referendum was put forward has been met, we would conduct put to the legislature a bill to request a statehood referendum.

      If the legislature passed that bill, and the Iraqi people agreed by referendum, then the Iraqi legislature would write a State Constitution to be submitted to the Congress with a petition for statehood, which I imagine the Congress would grant.

      The nice thing about this plan is that we win either way. If the Iraqis decide in the first referendum not to become a territory, we concur, do what we need to do to stabilize and pacify Iraq, and then step out of local politics. If the government they form asks us to leave, we leave. If the Iraqis decide to become a territory, but reject statehood, then we concur, step out of local politics, and offer them commonwealth status. If they reject that as well, we concur. If the newly-formed government asks us to leave, we leave. In any case, either we will gain a new State and an infusion of new ideas and citizens, or we will gain immense goodwill by being willing to offer such a massive benefit, and by being gracious in accepting the refusal of such an offer, if it comes.

      Actually, while we're at it we might offer statehood to the Canadian provinces from Manitoba westwards. But let's not advertise it with 54-40 or fight, I think.

      UPDATE (6/4): Michael Totten has a different take.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      June 18, 2003

      Imperialism

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      Michael Totten agrees with Joe Katzman about what needs to be done in places like the Congo, but doesn't like calling it colonialism or imperialism. OK, fair enough. I can see the need for a different word.

      Imperialism is the notion of taking adjacent possessions in order to protect the Imperial core (since the outer possessions would be attacked first). Not really appropriate here. Colonialism is the notion of taking possessions generally distant in order to exploit their resources to the economic, political and military benefit of the core. The tactics for establishing and maintaining order are very similar.

      What Joe is discussing is a little different: taking possessions in order to stabilize and rationalize them for the benefit of those already there, and in order to prevent the rot from spreading. The tactics would be similar to imperialism and colonialism at first, as the territories are stabilized. The rationalization - bringing freedom, liberal democracy, economic freedom and individual rights to the occupied territory - would have very different tactics. In particular, the occupying power would leave in the end. Effectively, this would mean establishing a temporary empire, and then giving it up. How about "Interventionism"?

      UPDATE (6/11): Joe Katzman article by Paul Johnson, who calls this process "moral imperialism". Michael Totten prefers "democratic imperialism", which actually strikes me as fairly wrong - we don't want to create democracies, per se, but federal republics; and given that the territories wouldn't have a vote in the start of the process, that makes the term "democratic" rather misleading. However, I've thought of an even better term, I think: how about "internationalism"? We are, after all, trying to bring these territories into the international system of trade and representative government, and it co-opts the very people within our society who would otherwise argue against the idea by taking a term they already lionize and using it in a new way. Hmmm....

      UPDATE: I forgot to mention Michael Totten's other suggestion: "nation building". While this certainly describes the process, it has a historical problem in that most of the places where this needs to be done aren't nations, per se. They are generally collections of tribes whose only common identity is a map drawn by the colonialists of the 19th century. Actually, now that I think about it, that works, too, since we'd be trying to build a common identity. OK, I'll go with "nation building".

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      June 17, 2003

      The Joys of Mainstreaming

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      Read. Weep.

      Nearly every day, I see or hear a story about the current condition of government schools, and am thankful that I got out of them when actually educating students was still considered important, and when it was still OK to tailor classes for exceptional students (in both directions) to make sure everyone got what they needed.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      June 15, 2003

      Failure of Logic

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      Are the "opponents of tax cuts" then suggesting that if my taxes are reduced to $5 per year, but that $5 represents 100% of the Federal income tax take, then I should be upset about the effect of the tax cuts? What an odd argument.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      Strange Concept

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      Apparently, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is peeved that they are being "persecuted" by the government of the Phillipines, against which the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has been waging war lo these many years. Herewith, an article (courtesy of the Command Post) detailing the group's story. I don't know what to call this post, since I'm not fisking the article, but the group the article is about. Anyone got a term for this?

      THE secessionist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will file a formal protest before the United Nations Human Rights Commission regarding the alleged religious persecution being done by the military and its "baseless" accusations against the group.
      OK, first of all, d'you guys know what MILF also stands for? Let's just say I'm not linking to a representative site. Go to Google yourself!

      More importantly, are you actually contending that since you view your war as a holy war, and since therefore planning the overthrow of your enemy is a religious act, then the enemy resisting by, say, hunting you down and killing you constitutes persecution for your religion, as opposed to just trying to keep you from killing them?

      In a telephone interview, MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu accused the Armed Forces of waging a "despicable pattern of attacking alleged MILF camps while a religious performance is going on."

      Well, yes, apparently that is your claim. Strange concept of "religious" you have there.
      "Our lawyers are drafting a formal protest and we will submit it to the United Nations as soon as possible. This is in order to put a stop to all these violations against us and the entire Muslim community," Kabalu told The Manila Times.

      Of course, during this time you will undoubtedly be killing as many Phillipinos, foreigners and government officials as possible, natch. After all, it's your religious duty, no?
      He cited five incidents in which government forces launched offensives on MILF areas while the Muslims were deep in their early-morning prayers. These were the attacks on Sharif Aguak in Maguindanao on January 8, 1999; in Matanog, Barira Area in Camp Abu Bakar, sometime in 2000; in Buliok Complex in Pikit, North Cotabato on February 11; in Liguasan March on March 14; and in Sabacan in Kabuntalan, Maguindanao on June 20.

      These attacks, Kabalu said, happened while they were having their Eid Ul Adha, or the Muslim's early-morning prayer.

      "Clearly this is religious persecution. They [military] always time their attacks during our early-morning prayers," Kabalu said. He noted that a military officer was even quoted in a newspaper as saying that the best time to attack the MILF was during its prayer gatherings.


      Ah, I get it. You can't be attacked because you called "time out" and the evil Phillipine Army is not respecting your prayers to kill more soldiers. On the other hand, it seems to me that this is a great strategy. They know when y'all pray, after all, so that makes it easier to get you then. Excellent plan, and kudos to the Phillipines for thinking of it.
      The officer in question was Brig. Gen. Orlando Buenaventura, former commander of the 3rd Marine Brigade and the new Armed Forces deputy chief of staff for education and training (J8).

      The Times tried to get Buenaventura's comment but he was unavailable.


      Was it, perchance, dawn? I'm just asking.
      Rear Adm. Edgardo M. Israel, the new Civil Relations Service commander of the Armed Forces, said, however, that Kabalu is merely trying to deceive the people by releasing "untruthful information."

      No doubt MILF would take Rear Admiral Israel's name for proof of its allegations.
      "From what Kabalu has been saying, it appears that the MILF is either not sincere [to resume peace negotiations] or the MILF high command has no control over its spokesman," Israel said.

      Three guesses, I give you.
      Besides the alleged religious persecution, Kabalu said the MILF hopes that the UN will also shed light on the government's accusation that the MILF possesses C4 (Composition four), a dangerous explosive not available in the global market.

      Around 450 kilos of C4 were allegedly recovered by the military in a recent raid on an MILF camp in Kabuntalan, Maguindanao. Kabalu insisted that the explosive was planted by the military to put the MILF in a bad light.


      Yeah, 'cause after killing so many people, it's the possession of military-quality explosives that really makes you look bad.
      "This matter could only be clarified through a third party," Kabalu said.

      Also expected to be cleared up by the UN is the government's accusation that the MILF is linked with terrorist groups like the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiah, he said.


      What are the odds that an extremist Muslim political movement which kidnaps and murders innocents in order to terrorize the remaining non-Muslim population and force the government into giving valuable concessions in exchange for promises of future action, would be aligned with extremist Muslim political movements which kidnap and murder innocents in order to terrorize the remaining non-Muslim population and force the government into giving valuable concessions in exchange for promises of future action? I don't see the connection at all, here.
      The MILF has no legal personality before the world body and may use member nations of the Organization of Islamic Conference to represent its interests.

      Any organization which would present a legal front for MILF would be making themselves complicit in the actions of MILF. Of course, I wouldn't put it past many "respectable" Muslim organizations to do this. CAIR would be right up there, for example. I don't know about OIC, though. Maybe they actually are a mainstream Muslim group.
      On Monday the MILF urged President Arroyo to issue a "clear" written policy statement on the government's stance to resolve the rebellion problem in Mindanao.

      If I were the President of the Phillipines, my clear written policy statement to resolve the problem would be to hunt down and kill every member of MILF, burn their houses, and salt their fields. Some say I'm a bit extreme, but I feel it's important to make a point about such things.
      Michael Mastura, MILF peace panel member and former Maguindanao representative, said the President's written statement would put an end to remarks on the Mindanao problem by top Malacañang officials, including presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye.

      Somehow, I doubt it.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      Courtney

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      I found Courtney's eponymous blog though IMAO. And what a find it was! I only read Courtney's blog every two or three days, at which point I have to spend a lot of time catching up, because pretty much everything she writes is worth reading. Here's a sample of recent entries:

      my night out on the left discusses an evening with a friend, and some of his friends, and the ensuing conversations.

      negative democrats is a short post about the Democrats running against Bush, instead of for some princple or policy. Best quote: "The Left's only attempts at debate and pressure sound more like a socialist bash-fest. 'Tax the rich, repeal tax cuts! Bush is a liar!" Idiots.' (And she's right: we need a serious opposition party to keep Bush from going too far right, and the Democrats aren't it.)

      france's new joan of arc is about Sabine Harold, a young French conservative who's been getting some attention lately.

      for some, the u.s. is always wrong points out the hypocrisy of those who called for the US to not intervene in Iraq, to now intervene in the Congo. Money quote: "I don't get it. Why were there so many anti-war protests against us going to Iraq? Even if these people didn't believe that we were going for the reasons Bush laid out, why didn't they just concede that at least the humanitarian situation would improve? This, more than anything else, shows that these NGOs and humanitarian activists are politically motivated and reflexively anti-Bush."

      And there's a whole lot more. Go read.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      June 14, 2003

      France

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      I was going to link to all of Steven Den Beste's recent articles on France, but Winds of Change has saved me the effort, as well as adding some additional information. In additon to these, the Dissident Frogman and Merde in France have additional (and ongoing) information, and Innocents Abroad also has frequent information.

      What is happening in France is scary. I do not believe that France is on the verge of collapse. Rather, I believe that one of two scenarios is likely: either France will decline (relative to the rest of the liberal democracies) over the next 20 years, leading to a series of increasingly-appalling crises and possibly concluing in a civil war between the native-born French and the unassimilated Muslims; or France will actually convince Europe to go along with the EU superstate concept, which will drag all of Europe into the French crisis, but at a slower pace. Demographics is destiny, and the piper will be paid.

      Slightly less likely than either of these two outcomes is the possibility of a revolution and formation of a new Republic, some time in the next dozen years or so. While this would be violent, it would be on the order of massive strikes and the associated intimidation and beatings, rather than outright civil warfare. France has done this repeatedly, and there is a deep revolutionary character in France. If this happens, the most likely outcome is a radical socialist (not social democratic) regime with an aggressive foreign policy and a domestic policy towards Jews, Muslims and other minorities resembling fascism more than liberal democracy. In actual fact, such a government would, even if it allowed large amounts of personal freedom for the native French, rapidly deteriorate into nationalism and tyranny. Please note that this would be without doubt a popular and populist revolution, and the resulting government would be fully legitimate in every meaningful sense. I'm not suggesting an insurrection fomented by outside powers, here.

      The third outcome I can see happening in France is less likely, but would be more immediate. It is certainly possible that the EU could collapse as an attempt to form a superstate, reverting to a mostly-economic arrangement. It is also possible that the resulting loss of face for France, as well as loss of superpower-level influence, would cause the French voters to turn out the government and bring in Le Pen or a similar nationalist. Such a government would almost certainly attempt to bust the most powerful unions, which would most likely lead to the revolution and institution of outright socialism described above. However, it is possible that the nationalists would be successful in breaking the power of the trade unions. If that were to happen, and then the French were to turn out the nationalists for a social democratic government, and that government were willing to attempt to assimilate the Muslims at the same time they were reducing the welfare state, it is possible that France could come through without the massive dislocations described above.

      The other thing that I keep thinking, reading about the trade unions in France, is how glad I am that Reagan broke up the air traffic controllers strike in the early 1980s. Had he caved, the results would have been catastrophic in the long-term.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      June 13, 2003

      Guerrilla

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      Tacitus posted a speculation that what is happening in Iraq right now - the daily attacks, and the US response - is the beginning of an organized guerilla war, with substantial support from the population. He asks where others who supported the war stand on this.

      My opinion: Tacitus is mostly correct. Events in Iraq today are mostly a result of the fact that the Iraqi power structure was not really defeated in their own mind. Certainly, the government was thrown down and the army and police disbanded, but Saddam and his sons are still at large, and the people who had the power before the war still have it now to a large extent, though the scope of their power is much reduced. This, combined with the large caches of small arms, machine guns and RPGs in Iraq, means that the ingredients for an uprising in central Iraq - particularly the area between the rivers to Tikrit - are all in place: leadership, a grudge, fighters, weapons, a target.

      But I don't think that the situation is going to get bad, unless the military has suddenly become willfully blind to reality on the ground. In Iraq, we have all of the capabilities and rules of engagement to end this quickly. We can remove the leadership by killing, capturing or determining the fate of Saddam Hussein and his sons, and by rousting out the Ba'athists, who are largely well-known - and we are doing this. These operations remove many of the fighters as well, though foreign fighters will continue to be a problem until we kill them and figure out how to stem the supply.

      We can remove the grudge by building local governments and putting forth a set of concrete steps towards Iraqi independence. We have not done this very well yet, and time is running down on this. We have to make clear what is necessary for us to turn Iraq back over to the Iraqis - not a time frame but a sequence of steps - before we become the enemy to the broad mass of Iraqis.

      The weapons are a problem, because Iraqis have a legitimate need to own them in a society where there is not good order. That said, I think at the very least, we need to round up the RPGs. That will reduce the lethality of attacks on us without undermining legitimate self-defense by Iraqis. If we were to form local militias, along with the local governments, and give them the power to enforce good order in their areas, this would go a long way to removing the grudge, the weapons and the fighters and putting people more on our side. I don't think that we can disarm Iraq in time otherwise. We need to get locals disarming those who cannot be trusted with the arms, rather than having US troops do so (except in exceptional circumstances, as where the nascent guerillas are too strong for the local militia to handle).

      As long as we are there, and as long as we show real power in the street, we will be a target. The only fix for this - short of leaving the job undone - is to do the job. Until and unless we fix Iraqi society for real, we are going to be targets.

      Where I think we've been falling down, as far as I can tell from existing reports, is in allowing local self-government, and only stepping in to fix the local issues when it's obvious that the local governments are failing or have to learn how to govern properly. If we set up a clear set of rules, including the rights we expect to be respected for all Iraqis, and then let the local governments figure out how to govern, we'll come out ahead of the game. If we don't - and indications are we are not - let local governments form organically under a defined set of rules, we are risking the long-term objective of stabilizing Iraq, because we are setting up conditions where we would just leave and let a new strongman take over. This would undermine the entire war on terror, so it cannot be allowed to happen.

      As a side note, the situation in Iraq, as with the situation in Afghanistan, shows the downside of the American way of warfighting. We win very quickly, but very lightly. We throw down the enemy, but we do not kill large numbers of people or destroy large amounts of national wealth. This is good, in that it is humane, but it is bad, in that it drags out the endgame. By not being brutal, we leave the enemy undefeated in his own mind. He has lost nothing, in his mind, but position. He is still intact, and his country is still intact. Much of the good will he had - to the extent that it was present before the war - is unchanged, and his supporters are often powerful in the followon regimes.

      This is OK, I think, in cirumstances where we don't care what happens after we solve the immediate problem (vis Kuwait in 1991, or Haiti any time we've intervened there, or arguably in Afghanistan). It is not so good where we want to build a functioning society before we leave. In those cases, we more troops dedicated to nation building and civil administration - in other words, a ready-to-go occupation force, to replace the heavy divisions once they've done their work.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      June 12, 2003

      On the Road

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      So far the trip has been going pretty well, with the kids proving much better than expected at long rides in the car. Our sanity is holding at about 75%, which is slightly above normal.

      We spent Friday night, Saturday and Sunday with my parents in Mena, AR. Actually, they live outside of Yocana (pronounced YOCK-nee), which is outside of Ink, which is outside of Mena, population less than 6000. In other words, we were in the boonies. (There is a great story, by the way, to the name of Ink. When the town was first incorporating, and everyone was voting on what to call it, the librarian passed around ballots, and said "Please write in Ink." So the people wrote in "Ink" on the ballot.) We had a great time; my brother and his eldest daughter were there for Friday and Saturday, and we got to see my Uncle Ed and Aunt Verna and my Uncle Robert and Aunt Sylvia. The kids had a great time playing in the "yard" and down by the pond, and Connor is covered in chigger bites.



      Monday was a long day, with a drive from Mena to Memphis, where we had a late lunch with Steph's high school friend Peggy, and then on to Huntsville. We spent part of Tuesday at the Space and Rocket Center. The kids loved the simulators and the rocket park. We could hardly get Aidan out of the Apollo simulator. It's odd, though, how some of the exhibits haven't been updated. Two of the exhibits mention the Challenger (including the landing simulator, ironically enough) as if it were still operational, and the women in space wall only goes up to 1994 or so. The other thing that surprised me was the amount of museum space dedicated to Redstone Arsenal's mission (missile design, specification and certification, as well as work with the Land Warrior project and UAV and UGV development). These were neat exhibits, but seemed out of place.


      The Saturn V mounted on the ground, with its stages separated, is actually in fairly poor condition. It was awe inspiring to see a Saturn V mounted standing, though. I hadn't realized that there was another Saturn V remaining to mount, apart from the one already at Huntsville and the one at Kennedy, both of which are mounted horizontally.

      We drove down late Tuesday to Montgomery - through no fewer than five rainstorms, some pounding so hard we had to pull over, and most hard enough that we could only drive very slowly. We went through Birmingham at rush hour and in a rainstorm. We had planned on stopping to see the parents of a good friend of ours, but decided to forego stopping just so we could get through the rainstorm faster.

      We've been visiting with Steph's immediate and extended family here in Montgomery since yesterday, and will be here through Saturday morning. We'll drive back through Vicksburg, so that we can stop by the battlefields, and be back either late Sunday or some time Monday.



      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      Zenpundit

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      I don't remember where I first found out about Mark Safranski's Zenpundit, but it has become a daily read for me. Zenpundit has been around since February 2003 - or at least that's how far back the archives go - and has an incredible signal-to-noise ratio. While Zenpundit is, like most blogs, hard to pigeonhole, the focus is generally on current event, politics and foreign policy. Zenpundit features lots of quotation, excerpts and linking, and periodic analysis.

      Being on Blogspot, Zenpundit's archives are not-unexpectedly broken. Recent posts of interest include:

      A BRILLIANT ESSAY ON THE U.S. AND AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY, which reproduces an Eric Bergerud essay from the H-DIPLO Listserv. The quoted essay includes this particularly-excellent observation, among too many to excerpt fairly:

      Now, if one views the U.S. as in a war, the
      government's response is understandable, even laudable. If the struggle
      against terror is viewed as an exercise in normal diplomacy then America,
      not bin Laden (or Kim Jong Il) is the threat to world peace.

      A WORD FROM MR. BLIX, which excerpts a Financial Times article on the latest report from UNMOVIC, analyzing data from just before the start of the recent war.

      LIBERALS AND IRAQ addresses two particular themes from the Leftists lately: a) The Bush administration " lied " about Iraqi WMD, and, b) The occupation of Iraq has been an utter disaster. Excerpt:

      Point A relies on studiously ignoring the history of Iraq since 1990, especially the policies of the Clinton administration and the contents of UNSCOM reports and the sacrifices made by Saddam ( $ 180 billion dollars) in order not to comply with inspections. Basically, critics repeatedly do not address these points or will say that Saddam had weapons in 1998 but not 2003, skipping over the origin of this amazing insight into Iraqi governmental operations - like when and where exactly these items were destroyed or the larger question of why Saddam would kick out the inspectors and then, secretly, dismantle his weapons. They rely on the mysterious absence of large WMD stockpiles to argue they did not exist - though logically you could make the exact same argument about Saddam with an equal amount of validity.

      Two links to invaluable resources: the Founders' Constitution and an in-depth site from the Library of Congress on the Federalist Papers.

      The above list of posts only covers the weekend, from Friday May 30 to Monday June 2.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      June 11, 2003

      Winds of Change

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      Winds of Change is a group blog, headed up by Joe Katzman. There are three excellent features which make this blog worthy of note: the writing quality and opinion diversity of the contributors, the writing quality and opinion diversity of the commentors, and the focus on events through series of posts by different authors and through recurrent features such as "Winds of War". Here, then, is a sample of recent posts:

      MAKING A DIFFERENCE: CONFLICT DIAMONDS - Armed Liberal points out a major and too-little-discussed engine feeding the violence in Africa, and suggests something we can do about it.

      RANDINHO'S LATIN AMERICA BRIEFING: 2003-06-10 - Randy Paul glosses Central and South American politics over the last week.

      BACK IN THE USSR? THE NEW E.U. - Joe Katzman discusses the anti-democratic and anti-liberal foundations of the emerging E.U. This post is also an excellent example of the quality of people who post comments to Winds of Change.

      MORE ACADEMIC SELF-DESTRUCTION - Trent Talenko discusses the response of academics to the firing of Sami al-Arian, a University of South Florida professor under indictment for terrorist activities.

      THE DEATH OF FRANCE? - Trent Telenko looks at the failure of France to integrate immigrants, and what that means for France in the Future.

      VENEMOUS KATE'S WINDS OF WAR: 2003-06-09 - Venemous Kate glosses the war on terror.

      All of this, and I haven't even finished going back through yesterday. Go read.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      A Flame Beyond Common Understanding

      Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.

      On this date, in 1944, Americans, British, Canadian, French, Polish, and ANZAC troops stormed into northwestern France, along the Normandy beaches between the Cotentin peninsula and the Orne River. Some 130000 troops came ashore on landing craft, and 26000 more came by parachute and glider. About 12000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded or went missing on D-Day- 8 casualties every minute, all day long. Over the next 10 days, some 560000 Allied troops came ashore, establishing a permimeter more than 30 miles long. By the time of the German escape from the Falaise pocket in the third week of August, some 250000 Allied soldiers were killed, wounded or missing. The Germans had lost twice as many.

      A chilling first-hand account of the Omaha Beach landing is here (hat tip: Little Green Footballs). Keep in mind as you read this that a company is about 100 men. Able Company was 98% dead, wounded, missing or combat ineffective for the entire day.

      Here are the Medal of Honor citations for June 6, 1944. The asterists by the names indicate the award is posthumous.

      BARRETT, CARLTON W.

      Rank and organization: Private, U.S. Army, 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. Place and date: Near St. Laurent-sur-Mer, France, 6 June 1944. Entered service at: Albany, N.Y. Birth: Fulton, N.Y. G.O. No.: 78, 2 October 1944. Citation: For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, in the vicinity of St. Laurent-sur-Mer, France. On the morning of D-day Pvt. Barrett, landing in the face of extremely heavy enemy fire, was forced to wade ashore through neck-deep water. Disregarding the personal danger, he returned to the surf again and again to assist his floundering comrades and save them from drowning. Refusing to remain pinned down by the intense barrage of small-arms and mortar fire poured at the landing points, Pvt. Barrett, working with fierce determination, saved many lives by carrying casualties to an evacuation boat Iying offshore. In addition to his assigned mission as guide, he carried dispatches the length of the fire-swept beach; he assisted the wounded; he calmed the shocked; he arose as a leader in the stress of the occasion. His coolness and his dauntless daring courage while constantly risking his life during a period of many hours had an inestimable effect on his comrades and is in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.

      *MONTEITH, JIMMIE W., JR.

      Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Colleville-sur-Mer, France, 6 June 1944. Entered service at: Richmond, Va. Born: 1 July 1917, Low Moor, Va. G.O. No.: 20, 29 March 1945. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, near Colleville-sur-Mer, France. 1st Lt. Monteith landed with the initial assault waves on the coast of France under heavy enemy fire. Without regard to his own personal safety he continually moved up and down the beach reorganizing men for further assault. He then led the assault over a narrow protective ledge and across the flat, exposed terrain to the comparative safety of a cliff. Retracing his steps across the field to the beach, he moved over to where 2 tanks were buttoned up and blind under violent enemy artillery and machinegun fire. Completely exposed to the intense fire, 1st Lt. Monteith led the tanks on foot through a minefield and into firing positions. Under his direction several enemy positions were destroyed. He then rejoined his company and under his leadership his men captured an advantageous position on the hill. Supervising the defense of his newly won position against repeated vicious counterattacks, he continued to ignore his own personal safety, repeatedly crossing the 200 or 300 yards of open terrain under heavy fire to strengthen links in his defensive chain. When the enemy succeeded in completely surrounding 1st Lt. Monteith and his unit and while leading the fight out of the situation, 1st Lt. Monteith was killed by enemy fire. The courage, gallantry, and intrepid leadership displayed by 1st Lt. Monteith is worthy of emulation.

      *PINDER, JOHN J., JR.

      Rank and organization: Technician Fifth Grade, U.S. Army, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Colleville-sur-Mer, France, 6 June 1944. Entered .service at: Burgettstown, Pa. Birth: McKees Rocks, Pa. G.O. No.: 1, 4 January 1945. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, near Colleville-sur-Mer, France. On D-day, Technician 5th Grade Pinder landed on the coast 100 yards off shore under devastating enemy machinegun and artillery fire which caused severe casualties among the boatload. Carrying a vitally important radio, he struggled towards shore in waist-deep water. Only a few yards from his craft he was hit by enemy fire and was gravely wounded. Technician 5th Grade Pinder never stopped. He made shore and delivered the radio. Refusing to take cover afforded, or to accept medical attention for his wounds, Technician 5th Grade Pinder, though terribly weakened by loss of blood and in fierce pain, on 3 occasions went into the fire-swept surf to salvage communication equipment. He recovered many vital parts and equipment, including another workable radio. On the 3rd trip he was again hit, suffering machinegun bullet wounds in the legs. Still this valiant soldier would not stop for rest or medical attention. Remaining exposed to heavy enemy fire, growing steadily weaker, he aided in establishing the vital radio communication on the beach. While so engaged this dauntless soldier was hit for the third time and killed. The indomitable courage and personal bravery of Technician 5th Grade Pinder was a magnificent inspiration to the men with whom he served.

      *ROOSEVELT, THEODORE, JR.

      Rank and organization: brigadier general, U.S. Army. Place and date: Normandy invasion, 6 June 1944. Entered service at: Oyster Bay, N.Y. Birth: Oyster Bay, N.Y. G.O. No.: 77, 28 September 1944. Citation: for gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, in France. After 2 verbal requests to accompany the leading assault elements in the Normandy invasion had been denied, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt's written request for this mission was approved and he landed with the first wave of the forces assaulting the enemy-held beaches. He repeatedly led groups from the beach, over the seawall and established them inland. His valor, courage, and presence in the very front of the attack and his complete unconcern at being under heavy fire inspired the troops to heights of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice. Although the enemy had the beach under constant direct fire, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt moved from one locality to another, rallying men around him, directed and personally led them against the enemy. Under his seasoned, precise, calm, and unfaltering leadership, assault troops reduced beach strong points and rapidly moved inland with minimum casualties. He thus contributed substantially to the successful establishment of the beachhead in France .

      It should be noted that the US limited Medals of Honor from the D-Day landings to one per division. This has, in my opinion, dramatically understated the courage of American soldiers in action during that intense battle. Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      Random Thoughts

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      So after being away from work for two weeks, away from blogs for most of that time, and in general taking a real vacation, I've found out - or relearned - a few things:

      I get too much email at work, and too much of it actually requires me to do something (as opposed to just absorbing the contents). I cannot decide if this makes me more or less productive than I would otherwise be. My sense is that it makes me more productive, by allowing easier and more complete contact among me and the team and the users.

      I am in too many meetings. No contest here: meetings sap productivity. This is the hidden(?) cost of distributed work, in that the more distributed the team (and the more separated from their customers) the more meetings need to be held just to synchronize actions and iron out misunderstandings. A two minute conversation in the hall becomes a one-hour meeting. Over time, this is a real drain on the ability of the doers to do, though it is probably more productive for managers than meeting everyone on an individual basis. This, by the way, is also why I think that foreign outsourcing of technical services is a temporary fad. It's just too expensive in ways that don't fit into the spreadsheets, and over time a good company tends to iron out those inefficiencies.

      Reading blogs connects me to the world in a way that watching and listening to the news does not. I have stopped watching television news; it's too shallow, blindered and repetitive. I listen to NPR/BBC in the car, but find it too limited in viewpoint. (Frequently the radio news spends all of its time on an anthill, missing the mountain they're standing on. This beats TV news, which misses both the mountain and the anthill.) Newspapers and news magazines don't tend to have the urgency that other media do, but don't tend to make up for it by treating topics in depth, finding interesting angles, or tackling subjects not sexy or immediate enough for TV or radio.

      As useful as they are, and as interesting, and as much as they broaden my perspective of the world, I spend too much time reading blogs. I need to spend more time playing with my children. I hadn't realized how much I had let that slip away, until I spent last week at home, not working and not reading blogs much.

      My family is wonderful. My kids take car trips better than they could reasonably be expected to (better, in fact, than Steph and I sometimes did). My wife is the most amazing woman I've ever known. (Example: the kinds of things she does to educate our sons.)

      It takes longer for me to fix up the house than it does for the kids to destroy it, and longer for us to clean the house than for the kids to mess it up. I am confident that this ratio will turn around as they grow older.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      June 10, 2003

      Reducing the Size of the North Korean Military

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      Frank J. has the quote of the day already. In Frank's world, SecDef Rumsfeld is giving a press conference:

      "North Korea says they need nuclear weapons so they can reduce the size of their military. What is your response to that?"

      "I would like to remind North Korea that we also have a plan for reducing the size of their military that involves nukes. Next question."

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      Off the Road

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      Steph has a good post on things we learned on our vacation. We had a good time. We actually got back Sunday night, but between the new Harry Potter book and catching up on sleep and really just being lazy, I've not gotten around to posting anything. In fact, I've only caught up with four blogs that I normally read, which is almost prerequisite for posting anyway, so it may be a few days before I get around to posting anything substantive.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      Making up Numbers

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      It goes without saying that groups like the BSA and RIAA just make up the numbers they use to try to influence public policy. Actually, it doesn't go without saying, but it's been said better elsewhere. Slashdot has an item today on BSA's latest made-up numbers:

      JakiChan writes "According to this story on Yahoo! news the BSA commissioned a study that decided that 39% of all business software is pirated, down from 40%. The decline is attributed to the BSA's enforcement techniques. 'The piracy rate was calculated by comparing the researchers' estimates on demand with data on actual software sales.'" In other words, some guys sat in a room and decided that people probably wanted to buy ten copies of software, but only five were sold, so the piracy rate must therefore be 50%. By a similar process we can calculate that 99% of all ocean-front homes are pirated.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      Burning Symbols

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      The day that a Constitutional Amendment banning flag burning clears both houses of Congress is the day that I book a trip to Washington, DC, so that I can burn copies of the Constitution on the steps of the Capitol.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

      June 1, 2003

      Overcommitment

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      Steven Den Beste (repeatedly), Donald Sensing and Tacitus have all noted how overcommitted the military is currently, particularly in low-density high-demand forces (MPs, SOF, Civil Affairs and the like) and heavy ground forces. We built our force around two theater commitments, plus minor operations, and now we have them in spades. We have a major occupation in Iraq, minor occupations in Afghanistan and the Balkans, and a requirement for contingency reserves for Korea in case the North acts up. We most likely will rotate some of the Korean reserves into Iraq later in the year (particularly 1Cav and 25Inf are good candidates) replacing 3ID and later 1AD or 4ID.

      But then what? The truth is, we are going to need one to two full divisions in Iraq for the next five years at least, and we'll need more than that until we can get an Iraqi police force and army off the ground. For the next two years at least, while we're building Iraqi institutions, we'll need three to four divisions in Iraq. We have commitments for another two to three divisions worth of troops in various hotspots, and another two to three divisions to reinforce Korea. Then we're out of troops, and we don't have any more to spread around.

      We do have additional commitments to take care of, though. We will possibly fight in one or all of Syria, Iran and Korea in the next three to five years. It is almost a certainty that we will fight in one of those countries. (I expect it to be Syria. Iran and North Korea can be resolved short of war.) In addition to that, there is a possibility of us needing to commit some forces to Africa. And who knows what might crop up that we can't anticipate from the current world situation?

      But we do have options. One that I don't hear being bandied about much, though it's been mentioned a few times, is raising new active duty divisions and special-purpose troops. This would certainly be expensive. In fact, it would require either significant spending cuts, or significant tax increases (more than reversing the last three years' cuts) or perhaps some of both. I do not believe that there would be a shortage of people willing to volunteer or to stay in, so that no draft would be needed, provided that they would not have to maintain today's high optempo for an indefinite period of time. This option would also take significant time as well. The good part, though, is that it would fix the problem, and during this time of economic uncertainty, it would be a far better expenditure of government money than most of the ways the government tries to boost employment.

      Another option would be to make the strategic decision that Korea is no longer our problem. After all, it is not as if South Korea cannot defend itself. In the absence of the Cold War reasons for being in Korea, we could easily back out of that commitment. That alone would fix a huge amount of our force structure problems, though we would have to be very careful to avoid the appearance of just abandoning South Korea.

      It's possible that regional organizations like OSCE or OAS could create regional forces, along with the support units to deploy and support them. Using the UN of course would lend the pretense of legitimacy, though the UN has proven a totally incompetent intervenor in a crisis. I just don't see it happening, though. While lots of countries like the theory of international intervention to prevent disasters, the Congo is a good example of why this kind of intervention doesn't typically work. Basically, you can't wage war by committee.

      I really don't see us activating the Guard and Reserve. Let's face it, that would be problematic in the extreme. While we could do it (and would if we had to), the economic disruption of activing a unit like 49AD (from my home State of Texas) would be immense. The political problems would be huge, as well, though I believe they would be surmountable. I suspect that 10 years or so down the road, when the active part of the war on terror is over, we'll transition more heavy forces into the Guard and Reserve, and put more light and medium forces in the active duty Army.

      Another way we could bridge the gap would be to create a sort of permanent coalition of the willing. The idea would be to create an organization of liberal democracies, with its own armed forces not subject to direct control of any nation, but with strong national controls to prevent rash use of those forces. In particular, the mission of this organization would be limited to fighting terrorism and nation building. This needs its own post, because the idea needs a lot of explaining and cautions, but if such an organization existed (basically a UN with a far more limited mission, but real teeth to carry it out, and a far more exclusive membership), it would free up a lot of the US forces for use elsewhere. The trick would be to avoid the problems (mostly philosophical) that prevent the UN from being in any way useful in a crisis).

      In any case, it's clear we have to do something, and I hope that President Bush makes clear soon what that is to be.

      Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack