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August 24, 2004

Blood From a Stone

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They say that strength and fortitude keeps a man from getting screwed; but the future raises so many doubts when you put it in but you can't get it out.

- The Hooters, Blood From a Stone

Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House of Representatives, is calling for replacing the income tax with some other system, probably the "fair tax", and in the process potentially eliminating the IRS.

Before I get to the specific possibilities of different types of alternative taxation, I'd like to approach this in a roundabout way (hey! if you've read this site for any time, you should have expected this!) and start with why we have an income tax in the first place, and why it's so horrible.

There are five characteristics that make the income tax horrible: it is intrusive, and breeds tyranny; it provides for unlimited Federal power; it cannot be avoided by reasonable changes in behavior; it spawns corruption and political favoritism; it distorts the economy and inhibits growth.

The income tax is not horrible because of the amount of money that is taken. The amount of money take is horrible, but it would be horrible to take that amount of money regardless of the system for extracting the money.

One problem with having an income tax is that it leads to extraordinary amounts of tyranny. Consider the following powers that the government has only because of the need to accurately collect income tax:

  • The power to compel you and companies that may employ you to disclose the arrangements under which and the amounts which you are paid.
  • The power to take money from you without your active participation.
  • The power to fine you for not paying enough at the right times, even if you followed their rules on what to pay and when.
  • The power to restrict the ways in which you spend your money, and the power to demand proof of how you've spent your money.
  • The power to examine your financial records at will and without your knowledge, and frequently without any court order (such as going through your bank accounts).
  • The power to charge you with a crime with no actual evidence, and compel you to prove your innocence.
  • The power to compel you to participate in programs (such as Social Security) "for your benefit".
  • The power to require you to identify yourself in virtually all major financial transactions, even those conducted in cash, using a national id number (your SSN).
  • The power to control what benefits a company may offer and how it may fund them.
  • The power to prevent you from moving your money overseas.
  • The power to control ownership of publicly-traded companies.

All of these powers (and many others, equally as odious) are arrogated to the government because of the need to accurately collect a (very complicated) income tax. In sum, the government claims the right to control your finances in many, many particulars. Other forms of taxation could generate the same revenue for the government without the associated tyranny. Note that none of these factors changes with a flat tax, though it would be easier and cheaper to prepare tax returns.

Another problem with the income tax is the removal of limitations on Federal government action. I tend to date the end of the American Republic, and the beginning of the US as a Social Democratic nation, with the 16th and 17th Amendments to the Constitution, which destroyed two of the three primary practical limits on government power: limited income and limited political power (because the States, when they selected the Senators, jealously guarded their own interests). The third limit, by the way, was judicial conservatism, which was destroyed soon afterwards with the activists courts of the Depression and afterwards, and the willingness of the Congress and the people to allow their arrogations of power to stand.

With no ability for the States to check Federal spending, and with no ability for the people to avoid taxes (see below), the Federal government was suddenly able to intrude into virtually every aspect of individual life and of government at any level. Take roadbuilding and education as two examples: the Federal government can raise unlimited money, and can then use it to blackmail the States: either do such and so, or lose the money we are providing you for education or for road building. Thus was the national drinking age instituted. Thus have many dreadful changes in education been instituted. Thus, in short, has power been centralized and individual and State initiative stifled.

It used to be that taxation could be avoided. Assume the government were to put a tax on imports. Should that tax be oppressive, one could use domestic goods as a substitute, and thus avoid the tax. Non-direct taxes tend to be that way: you can avoid them by changing your behavior. With direct taxation, though, this is not possible, unless you choose to starve. (You can't even get out of this by growing your own food, because of property taxes on the land you would have to use to do so.) Since the tax is universal and unavoidable, government has no incentive to keep taxes reasonable. This is why taxation could grow to such levels, which is why in turn the Federal government could afford such massive and wasteful programs, which in turn demand higher tax rates.

With the large amount of income, and the utter intrusiveness, generated by the income tax, it became far more possible for the government to grant and revoke political favors. Consider as one example the wrangling each year over which tax benefits to grant to favored groups (buying their votes with our money), such as subsidies for farmers (which mostly go to large corporations). This is not really corruption, per se, though in certain cases it is corruption, for example where there is trading of subsidy or relief for campaign funds; but generally the problem is just that the public at large is taxed to favor particular groups.

On top of all of this, the income tax is bad for the economy. Again ignoring the size of the tax to be collected, the amount of money required to comply with the income tax is huge. I've seen estimates of $200 billion a year across the economy. Most of that is actually borne by companies; an individual's $60 tax prep program is minor, but companies can spend millions of dollars to avoid even larger amounts spent to pay fines. These corporate costs are passed on in the cost of goods and services, along with the actual tax paid. Merely reducing the cost of compliance with the code by simplification of the code adds huge amounts of "free" money back into the productive economy.

But not only is the economy dragged down somewhat by the costs of compliance, the remainder of the economy is distorted. Consider the subsidies: if a person is given money to produce, say, dairy products, wouldn't they produce more dairy products? Of course, which means that the supply of dairy products exceeds the natural demand, and the government is forced to allow prices to drop (thus resulting in no net gain to the dairy farmers), or to buy up the surplus product and warehouse it. Don't laugh, it happens.

So, if we are to eliminate the income tax, we have to have a system which eliminates or reduces these five effects (tyranny, unlimited Federal income/power, inability to avoid the tax, favoritism and economic drag) without adding offsetting bad effects.

I don't want to get too much into what is "politically possible," because if you don't ask, the answer's always no: I've seen too many "impossible" things done to credit that argument. (It's at about the same level of credibility as who is "electable" and who is not.) There is one argument, though, which I think is fairly incontrovertible: any system which puts a large burden on the poor - or can be made to appear as if it does to a person who is not paying attention - will fail politically: most Americans would not accept shifting the burden to the poor, and any plan which appears to do that would be rejected, along with the person who proposed it.

Another characteristic required of any replacement for income tax is that it must either be revenue-neutral, or must provide explicitly for the elimination of spending/programs. Given that the latter is unlikely as long as politicians seek power and bureaucrats seek to protect their "kingdoms", it's reasonable to only look at plans which are revenue-neutral.

So, that said, what are the options? Basically, you can only reasonably tax stores of value, or transactions involving stores of value. This means that you can tax things or events like physical property and other tangible assets, payment for services (including salary), sales and rentals, use of government-owned assets, use of government services, transfers of goods, and ownership or transfer of intellectual property grants. Taxing other things, at best, does no good, because the taxes are avoidable by using cash and not keeping records. Assuming you don't want to create tyranny, you want to avoid persecuting people over whether or not they've avoided reporting cash transactions.

Taking each of those items in turn:

  • Physical property and tangible assets: Put simply, this is property tax. It taxes the value of physical goods and titles held by a person, more or less in return for the government's protections of one's rights to those goods and titles.

    Little tyranny is involved, because the government has to know what you possess in order to protect your property rights in any case. However, the government could easily become excessively intrusive about how property is registered, used and transferred. Any such tendency would have to be kept carefully in check, perhaps by allowing Federal governments to tax the States based on their total property valuation, and having the States collect the tax as appropriate.

    The tax is avoidable, because property can be sold or abandoned if the taxes exceed the value of the property or goods. Because it can be avoided, Federal power is limited (since raising the tax too high would result in people avoiding the tax, and thus lessening the government's revenue).

    Favoritism is possible, because property could be taxed differentially by such selectors as who owns the property (look, for example, at the local property tax breaks given to large corporations) or what the property is used for. However, the ability of people to avoid the tax (for example, by incorporating or divesting themselves of the property) would limit this in comparison to the income tax.

    The economy would still be distorted, to the extent that private property ownership would be discouraged in relation to other stores of value (like stocks or cash); on the other hand, this distortion is considerably less than that of income tax, because it touches fewer economic activities. In addition, the cost of compliance is relatively small: the property value must be assessed, and the appropriate tax rate applied, and that's it (as long as the Congress resists the power to make the rate schedule Byzantine).

    The tax is not regressive, and couldn't easily be portrayed as such, because inherently poorer people wouldn't own property with valuations as high as those of richer people. Finally, given the large amounts of property and their values, it would be fairly simple to keep the plan revenue neutral without taxing private property ownership out of reach.

  • Payment for services (including salary): This is the income tax; it's what we are trying to avoid, for the reasons discussed above.
  • Sales and rentals: Retail sales taxes are commonly used by local governments. The VAT (Value Added Tax), added at each stage of production, is somewhat like a sales tax, but takes place not only at the retail level, but whenever the good or service is transferred. VAT is much used in Europe.

    Sales taxes and VAT are not terribly intrusive, because they are anonymous. It's hard to tyrannize people when you don't know who they are.

    Sales taxes are self-limiting, because excessive rates cause reduced purchasing or switching to tax-preferred alternatives (such as used goods).

    Corruption is still possible in subsidies, but it's very difficult to give tax breaks to specific groups on sales taxes, so favoritism is much less of an issue.

    The economic distortion in this case would be to encourage savings and discourage consumption. I don't know enough about economics to determine how damaging this would be in comparison to the income tax. To some degree, this would be offset by the higher immediate incomes, which allows people to determine how to use their money, and thus how they will pay the tax. This is therefore likely to be less of a drag on the economy than the income tax currently is.

    The biggest argument against sales taxes and VATs are that they are regressive. Attempting to craft them as taxes on luxury goods has the effect of killing the market in that luxury good (they are purchased abroad and imported instead) while not bringing in net revenue. In general, it is likely that a VAT could be implemented over this objection, so long as it excludes food and fabric and is not charged at the retail level.

    It would be possible to make this tax revenue neutral, though it would require adjustments for several years as people's behavior changed in response to the initial implementations of the tax.

  • Use of government-owned assets: These are generally called user fees. They are at best a very small part of the government's revenue stream. While these are, and will continue to be, employed, they do not form a part of the solution to eliminating the income tax.
  • Use of government services: The Post Office charges for its services, as does the Fed, as does the Patent Office. However, this is at best an offset of the operating expenses of that particular service: how do you charge for, say, the Army as a part of fees on government services, when private-sector services could be procured instead at a much lower cost? Again, this is not part of a solution to eliminating the income tax.
  • Transfers of goods: Import and export duties fall into this category. Otherwise, this doesn't differ markedly from sales taxes if you include VAT as a sales tax. I don't see this as being a major contributor to government revenue, though these taxes will continue to be imposed.
  • Ownership or transfer of intellectual property grants: This amounts to a property tax, but with the problem that valuation is extraordinarily difficult. How much is Micky Mouse's copyright worth? How about the patent for a drug, when the patent will expire next year? Certainly, this kind of property could be taxed, but it would be a lot easier to tax this as sales, rather than valuation of the grant of the monopoly.

I know I treated some of those a little briefly, but really, the only two options to taxation of income which would potentially be revenue neutral would be taxation of property values and sales. Some combination of these two would have to be used to replace the income tax.

Perhaps the best thing to do would be to tax the States relative to their GDP, and let them figure out how to raise money from their citizens. Of course, then the States would need Congressional representation, so they would have to regain the right to select their Senators. Hmmm...perhaps the real solution is to simply repeal the 16th and 17th Amendments, and let the government raise revenue by taxing the States proportionate to their population, GDP or some other meaningful measure.

Frankly, I'd be happy with some combination of property and sales taxes even if administered by the Federal government, as opposed to the income tax. If President Bush supports this, it won't change my vote for President, but it might change my vote for down-ballot elections.


Comments

A classic example of IRS tyranny is the recent Indianapolis Baptist case, widely covered at the time. The church building was siezed for non-payment of interest on penalties for not being a business; audits of the individual pastors should that everything which was Caesar's was indeed rendered.

Posted by: triticale on August 4, 2004 04:18 PM

Excellent post- well done !

I would add the judicial reinterpretation of the commerce clause to include virtually *everything* as being under Congressional jurisdiction as an important milestone as well.

Posted by: mark safranski on August 8, 2004 09:52 AM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

"Hello," He Lied

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I was going to fisk this article in detail (hat tip: The Wild Hunt), but I don't have time. As far as I can tell on a first read through, pretty much every statement made is or contains a lie. I don't know - because I haven't researched it - whether the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal site is on Shoshone land or not, though I suspect that it would not clear the legal hurdles if it were. But it's pretty hard to take anyone seriously once they start making statements like this:

And it's not as if the genuine terror of Bush is hard to notice. Within hours of coming into office, he'd started approving oil exploration in national parks, cutting support for disadvantaged children, raising the levels of arsenic in drinking water... Being an utter bastard with numbing consistency is his only speciality beyond mangling his native language and playing golf like an unhinged Muppet in times of crisis.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

August 23, 2004

John Kerry's Political Epitaph

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I believe that John Kerry's political epitaph may have been penned today by Marius of The Rostra:

So on the same day, John Kerry is telling us that he agrees that the use of force in Iraq was justified, and that he believes the war was unnecessary and entirely optional. Which is it? The frightening thing is this: we cannot and do not know the answer. There is nothing principled about it. The only principle is his own immediate political concern. Luckily for us, given his inability to mask his contradictions, he is a bad politician. A poor sophist.

I think that a putative President Kerry would be as disastrous for this country as President Carter's term was (and in much the same way), although without the consolation that Carter at least was an intelligent and honorable, though deeply misguided, man. Kerry seems to be campaigning on the honor and trustworthiness of the Clinton presidency, the dynamic public persona of the Dukakis campaign, and the foreign policy expertise of the Carter presidency.

While a Kerry presidency would not make me leave the country, it would certainly make me thoroughly reevaluate the value of working downtown in large cities. But I'm not really worried: Kerry is going to lose by a stunning margin.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

A Perfect Analysis

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The most amazing thing to me about the blogosphere is the sheer number of creative, intelligent, questing minds in evidence. As an example, for one of the best posts I've ever seen, read Andrew Olmstead's discussion of federalism, freedom, and personal responsibility as opposed to statism, security and shared responsibility. It's a tour de force, and I wish I'd written it. I find I agree with every point Andrew makes. There's too much to excerpt, so please go read.


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Thanks for the great Federalism link :)

Posted by: david on August 11, 2004 01:16 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Bad Experiences

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Francis Porretto has had, sadly, a bad experience with being generous. On a similar (but much less personal and painful) line, I've found the same behavior (of becoming hardened to others in apparent need) in myself while I've been in Chicago. Being in the Dallas suburbs does not expose you to very many homeless - well, to any homeless in fact - while being in downtown Chicago it is an unavoidable part of just walking down the street.

When I first got to Chicago, I was pretty generous: I can afford to be, and the apparent need is great. As I continued being exposed to this several times per day, however, I realized a few things. First, you see the same people panhandling over and over again, in much the same places. Second, you can divide the panhandlers into groups. Third, the head is right: what you subsidize you get more of.

I have stopped giving money to the bums, who are capable of working but don't. Their stories no longer move me: I've become hardened to that. I generally don't give money to the mentally disturbed: Chicago has a lot of resources for helping people who cannot help themselves. About the only group I still consistently give money to are people on the street with young kids: I have so far (thankfully) been unable to become inured to that.

I regret the calluses I've developed. But I have them nonetheless.


Comments

I saw many, many more homeless last year than I have seen this year. Maybe it is the areas that I drive, but I dunno. I know that there were more panhandling laws passed. The major result of that was that the firefighters were unable to raise half as much money as they raised last year in their fill the boot program. :( I used to give out McD coupons/certificates when we lived in the Cities.

Posted by: susie on August 14, 2004 09:59 AM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

How Odd

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In the process of cleaning up spam, a couple of my posts have managed to get their dates changed to today. How odd. What a lovely MT bug. Please pardon the dust.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

August 22, 2004

Winning or Not Losing

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Last week I wrote a post on how to win the war, in response to this Stephen Green post. My post got a lot of responses, of which this was somewhat typical of one particular branch of thought.

I suppose it would make some sense to clarify, now that so many people are convinced I'm a hate-filled radical right-winger. There is a difference between winning a war, and not losing it. When you win a war, the result is that you've achieved your objectives, and the enemy has been removed as a threat to you for at least the time being. When you don't lose a war, you may or may not have achieved your objectives, or removed the enemy as a threat, but you have prevented the enemy from achieving his objectives - at least those which were in conflict with yours such that you went to war in the first place.

Stephen Green's analysis was about how to not lose, as we didn't lose the Cold War. In the Cold War, we didn't lose for a long enough period of time that our enemy collapsed and we won by default. That appears to be the plan George Bush is working to now, and it is what Stephen Green was trying to formalize publicly.

I don't have a problem with not losing, under some circumstances: it is a reasonable way to minimize losses overall, and as long as you can outlast your enemy, you may win by default without a big war. Good all around, yes?

But what does not losing mean in this case? It means that we condemn millions to live in stifling oppression and poverty, with their daily life involving indoctrination to hate and kill us (second only to the Jews). "Us" in this case is not just Americans; we are only the face of the West. The jihadis want the whole West subjugated to shari'a law.

Ignoring the classically liberal argument for spreading freedom to all people, not losing also means that we risk the possibility of losing, and losing big. We have a huge military advantage over the jihadis, but that advantage is basically gone the moment that the jihadis have nuclear weapons. At that point, they have a trump card that they can use against the world: we have nuclear weapons hidden in many of your cities, and we are prepared to be totally annihilated if that's what it takes, so if you interfere with us we will kill you by the millions.

I don't want to lose, and that means that I don't want to take the risk of "not losing" turning into losing. A lot of the things I currently advocate for - such as killing imams and ayatollahs who preach the mass murder of Jews and Westerners - make me very uncomfortable. Then again, fire bombing Dresden and Tokyo would have made me very uncomfortable. But when it comes right down to it, I would rather we do these things, than find ourselves in the position of making the choice between genocide and shari'a.

It may be the case that we can not lose long enough for the seeds we planted in Iraq to mature into full-blown representative democracy in the Arab/Muslim world, that we won't have to rip militant Islamism out of the Arabs the way we ripped militant nationalism out of the Germans and Japanese. Or, it may be that, given the fervent pursuit of nuclear weapons by Iran and others, we cannot hold on long enough for the Arabs/Muslims to transform by themselves.

And then what?


Comments

Jeff,
I agree completely. It comes down to the well know phrase:
"I would rather be judged by 12 men than carried by six."

A hundred years of breast beating over what we felt forced to do is a cheap price to pay.

Posted by: Oscar on August 17, 2004 08:27 AM

The notion that we merely did not lose the Cold War and that the enemy collapsed inward is a fallacy, and a dangerous one. In fact, the Cold War lasted for 44 years precisely because from 1946, when Truman realized the danger of the Soviet Union (essentially thanks to Churchill's Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, Mo.), until 1981, we sought to "not lose" instead of seeking to win.

Consider that Truman's actions against the Soviet Union were basically defensive -- he set the stage for preventing enlargement of the Soviet empire and enacted both Containment and the Truman Doctrine. By the time Eisenhower became president, the Rosenbergs had helped the Soviets procure atomic weapon technology, therefore the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction came into effect. Ike also worked WITH the Soviets to win WWII, therefore he was not as antipathetically disposed to the USSR or communism as Reagan or JFK -- his lack of reaction to the Budapest uprising in 1956 speaks volumes.

Kennedy twice stared down the Russians; once he did so effectively. He was probably the most anti-Communist president of the US before Reagan, but his assassination minimized any effect his leadership could have against the Soviets. After the Gulf of Tonkin situation in 1964, LBJ's attention was primarily on Vietnam and he embroiled the US there.

Nixon came to power after the US military position in the world had become much weaker, thus he had to realpolitik the US through the treacherous international minefields laid by China and the USSR. His opening to China strengthened the US position; but still the US did not seek to "win" the Cold War. Ford did little other than follow Nixon and Kissinger's realpolitik. Carter was an unmitigated fiasco and did not want a Cold War (although Brezhnev did).

Reagan wanted to WIN the Cold War. He boosted US defense to try to get the Soviets to overspend on their own defense -- success. He rolled back communism in Grenada and Nicaragua and thereby demonstrated the fallibility of the Brezhnev Doctrine (once a country becomes communist, it stays communist). He had intermediate range missiles placed in West Germany to tell the Soviets that their threats against Western Europe can be countered (especially with the Pershing IIs that burrowed into the ground to detonate; purpose -- attacking Soviet command centers). He had a dynamic economy and fought the war of ideas against the Soviets. And on all these issues, Reagan won.

The Cold War for 36 years was really bilateral politicking through proxy wars. Only in 1981 (and really in 1983-onward) was the Cold War actually a head-to-head engagement and the Soviets not only lost, the US won.

Posted by: The Monk on August 17, 2004 03:47 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Splitting Hairs, and Texans

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There's an interesting discussion on Daly Thoughts about whether Texas should split into 5 states, as it is Constitutionally entitled to do. Four of the five states would almost certainly be Republican, with the fifth tending somewhat Democrat, so the Republicans would certainly have a short-term incentive in doing this. However, it won't happen.

As one commenter on Daly Thoughts noted, which state would get the Alamo? Besides, there's the fact that the things we love about Texas are usually things we love about Texas, not the particular part of the state that we are in. I love the smell of the prairie when the Spring winds are blowing, and the large amount of personal freedom that is granted and personal responsibility that is expected. I love the bluebonnets and the indian paintbrush. I love the attitude. I love the Alamo, and the Gulf coast, and the desert river with the dinosaur footprints fossilized in the riverbed. I love Austin. I love how everything is huge and new. I love the hills and trees in the trailing edge of the Ozarks. I love the way that the people are friendly and helpful. I love the almost universal patriotism and the limited whining. I love the longhorn cattle and the bison that are pastured, respectively, within two blocks and two miles of my house. I love the food. How much of this would remain in a state cut apart? Some of it, certainly, but not all.

I've thought about it - I suspect most Texans have - but I don't want to see it happen.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

The "Unbiased" Media

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I try to be very careful about naming people as enemies, because I believe that no quarter nor respite should be given to enemies: they should be killed, or compelled to surrender, and be quick about it. The BBC is coming very close to being an indisputable enemy in this war.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Goal->Strategy->Plan->Task (again)

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First, go read Dan Drezner's question on "good strategy with bad execution" or "bad strategy with solid process", and the excellent discussion it fostered. Then read my response (also in the comments at Drezner's blog):

The problem with this debate is that it isn't high-level enough. Let's start at the bottom and work up:

At the lowest level are the tasks actually carried out in the field. In most cases, these mesh with the plan created by the executives in charge of various departments. (Notoriously, the State Department often acts in accordance with its own private foreign policy, rather than carrying out that of the President, when it disagrees.) This is largely beyond the direct control of the President or his Cabinet: he is dependent on careerists for good execution. Two examples of tasks in the Terror Wars would be hunting down Osama bin Laden (military, mostly) and influencing neutrals like France to work on our behalf (diplomatic, mostly). Essentially, this is the execution layer.

Above that level is the plan. Ideally, the plan is detailed, and specifies who will do what tasks, in what order, to match the plan. It should also specify how to determine failure, and how to react to it, as well as how to determine and react to success. This is directly under the control of the Cabinet-level officers of government, via the deputy's who oversee the various plans (but still largely beyond the President's direct influence). Each department will have their own plans, and they will infrequently co-ordinate in any meaningful way. Essentially, this is the process layer.

The purpose of the plans is to achieve the next-highest level, the strategy. The strategy is generally made by the President in consultation with his Cabinet and with foreign allies and important domestic political figures (like the leaders of the House and Senate, and key governors in some cases). As the plan specifies the tasks, the strategy drives the plans.

At the highest level, and the least talked about, are the goals of foreign policy. This is purely the President's job to manage, and to communicate to the public. But only when the public buys in does politics "stop at the water's edge". And right now, the Democrats and Republicans don't agree on the goal.

The President stated a goal for the US after 9/11: destroy terrorists able to strike internationally, and the governments which support them, in order to create a stable and peaceful international environment.

The Democrats obviously disagree with the goal as well as the strategy (take out rogue regimes too close to nuclear capability, and democratize them, so that prosperity and representative government and liberty will remove the causes of jihadi terrorism), and thus will viciously criticize our every action. It is this reason which ensures that what is good for American in the Terror Wars is bad for the Democrats.

And that does not need to be a bad thing: it was far from clear in 1950 that the strategy of containment serving the goal of eliminating the threat of Communist revolutions was the right way to go. The problem is that the Democrats now (like the Republicans then) do not have an alternative goal to offer the American people, except to go back to 9/10 and act like everything's OK. It's not, and the Democrats must recognize this and offer a goal to include US security before they can be taken seriously.

They seem to be groping in that direction, offering various orbits around transnational progressivism as their ideas. While this in and of itself scares me - I'm no fan of ever-larger and more intrusive governments being in control - it is at least a groping towards a goal.

The debate over strategy is meaningless until the Democrats either agree to President Bush's goal, or the Republicans agree to some goal the Democrats eventually propagate.

Bad execution is nearly the least of our worries if our strategy is meaningless and reactive.


Comments

The discussion proceeding on Mr. Drezner's site is almost entirely an abuse of terms of art. As you imply an important part of the distinctions among these terms (tactics, strategy, grand strategy, and objectives) is the level at which the activity takes place.

Posted by: Dave Schuler on August 21, 2004 09:14 AM

I don't care how good a navigator somebody is if he's taking me someplace I don't want to go.

Posted by: Karl Gallagher on August 21, 2004 12:29 PM

It's funny you should put it that way, Karl. That's almost exactly what I just posted on my own blog (see the trackback).

Posted by: Dave Schuler on August 21, 2004 01:48 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Every Time I Think the Left has hit Bottom...

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They do something like this, and I have to realize that while I am a cynic, I am not nearly cynical enough.

What bothers me most is how childish this is, in a very serious time. Right now, thousands, and perhaps hundreds of thousands, of jihadi terrorists are trying their best to kill all of us. Right now, the Iranians are closing in on developing nuclear weapons, and if they do so they will likely attack Israel with them. Right now, North Korea has already obtained a nuclear capability, and might be willing to sell some of those weapons to terrorists or unfriendly countries in exchange for desperately-needed cash. Right now, the best the Left can do is sit in the back of the class and snigger at their crude drawings of the teacher shouting.

Laugh it up, monkey boy, while you still can, because you are no less a target of our enemies than I am.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

August 21, 2004

Pesky Questions

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If you were wondering if, say, the New York Times had any kind of journalism skills, the answer is "no". For example, Jay Tea has some pesky questions for the Times to answer about one of its stories.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

MT 3.1

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Version 3.1 of Movable Type will be released shortly. Unlike 3.0, which was not a new-feature release, 3.1 will have a raft of new features. Of those announced in the linked post, the ones that most interest me are a per-template option of whether publishing should be static or dynamic, post scheduling, and the notifier plug-in (which may be available separately for earlier versions of MT - I haven't checked). Considering the pricing and terms, this may be a worthwhile upgrade.

In terms of my wishlist, features that won't be implemented - or at least haven't been talked about yet, include:


Comments

Hi Jeff... just wanted to let you know that since version 2.661 (which you're on) we've added a *lot* of features you're looking for. There's a much better interface for the whole application, including special new screens just for managing comments and trackbacks.

And the plugin pack we're distributing alongside MT3.1 includes an entirely new version of MT-Blacklist, rewritten for our new plugin arcihtecture. That means you get a whole suite of comment spam management tools, that give you a broad range of ways to manage comment options. I hope you'll give it a try!

And we're definitely taking notes on your other feature requests to see if we can accommodate them in the future.

Posted by: Anil on August 30, 2004 02:54 AM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

August 20, 2004

The Moral Bankruptcy of the Left

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Michael Ubaldi's post on the Left's essential selfishness and particularly their indifference to liberty is excellent.


Comments

I read yesterday a comment from a left-winger to the affect of:

Freedom and democracy are AMERICAN values. Who are we to try to force our values down other people's throats?

I didn't realize that freedom was strictly American.

Posted by: Mark L on August 4, 2004 07:55 AM

Not to mention democracy.

Well, that's what you get for not knowing history, eh? Or not knowing anything about the rest of your planet.

Posted by: Stephanie on August 4, 2004 08:43 AM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Tax Cut Effect

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Here is some interesting information on tax burdens and how they fall. That's right: the top 20% of income earners pay 82.1% of the taxes, while the bottom 40% not only don't pay taxes, but because of credits actually get money (on net) from their "taxes".

Perhaps the Democrats could stop whining about the "greedy rich" and just say "thanks for paying all of this money and not taking up arms to end this confiscatory and tyrannical system". Or even just "thanks".


Comments

Yep, then when you go here http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2005/tables.html and realize that nearly 50% of the income of the federal government is personal income tax, then what you end up with is the top 20% of wage earners in this country are contributing 40% of federal monies.

But they can afford it.

Posted by: Mark L on August 29, 2004 10:26 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

August 19, 2004

Kerry's Foreign Policy

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Actually, let me emphasize the point of this post on Kerry's probable foreign policy.

There are four components to undertaking an action: goal, strategy, plan and task. If agreement is not reached on the goal, the strategy to achieve the goal is meaningless to those who don't concur with the goal. Similarly, if the strategy is not agreed upon, then the plan is irrelevant at best. Changing goals requires changing strategies, which in turn requires changing plans.

For example, in the Cold War, the consensus goal, developed starting with Truman and Churchill, was that Communism represented a threat to the US and the West and had to be defeated. The strategy, developed soon after, was containment: the USSR and China would not be allowed to spread Communism further than it already had spread. (This is why Viet Nam was a lost war: Communism spread. The fact that S. Viet Nam was not a democracy was irrelevant to any measurement of victory.) In the Cold War, President Carter was judged largely on his failures in implementing that strategy. (Reagan, by the way, changed not just the strategy, but also the goal: from containment to economic collapse.)

Now, with the Terror Wars, history will likely start this period with the fall of the Shah of Iran, overlapping the end of the Cold War. But we did not even think of it as a war until 9/11, and some people (apparently including much of the policy wonks and high political officials of the Democrat Party) still do not see us as being at war in any meaningful sense. So the Presidents of this period, starting primarily with George H.W. Bush, will be judged in the end by their reaction to the threat of Islamist terrorism. Both Bush 41 and Clinton will be judged somewhat harshly for not seeing the rise of Islamist terrorism as the threat it is (though Clinton will likely suffer more, largely because both the end of the Cold War and Desert Storm occurred on Bush's watch): they did not grapple with the problem and espouse a goal.

Bush 43 has set a national goal: the destruction of terrorists with international reach and of all states which support such terrorists. The strategy is not entirely clear, but it seems that "shrinking the Gap" by democracy promotion in formerly terrorist supporting States, combined with absolute containment of nuclear proliferation beyond where it was at the start of the century, is the most likely contender. The Democrats will not help with the enumeration of a national strategy, because they fundamentally disagree with the goal that President Bush has set out.

For most Democrat leaders, Kerry clearly included, the national strategy in foreign policy is to use the military for showboating and tinkering around the margins, largely at the behest of the UN and Old Europe, and only when our national security interests are not truly on the line. The reason for this is that the Democrats largely do not have a foreign policy goal (that is seen as a distraction from the "real work" here at home on advancing towards Social(ist) Democracy in particular and Statism generally). To the extent the Democrat leaders have thought about foreign policy in positive terms (ie: what they will do rather than what the Republicans are doing wrong), they seem to be of the opinion that transnational progressivism - fundamentally the transfer of sovereignty from States to an international government - is the proper policy.

Because there is no agreement between Democrats and Republicans on the goals of foreign policy, there can be no agreement on strategy. And to some extent, the discussion of foreign policy right now is very disingenuous, because the Democrats don't agree with the Bush Doctrine goal (defeat the terrorists and States that sponsor them) but don't want to say so publicly because the public by and large agrees with that goal.

Here's the kicker: if President Bush is re-elected, it is likely that the strategy he has been following will work: we will have a much more stable and free Iraq in four years than now, and likely will have invaded Iran and/or Syria as well, and will have gone a great way to reducing terrorism; while if Kerry is elected, it is likely that we will be where we were at the end of the Carter administration: dispirited, wandering, leaderless and deeply in malaise - and will have suffered many, many more casualties than if we were actively making war on the terrorists.

Again, vote as if your life depends on it.


Comments

Well put.

Posted by: sama on August 4, 2004 08:38 AM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

August 18, 2004

How to be a New Blogger

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Kim du Toit has an interesting post about starting blogging, competition, page views and similar stuff. It's something I've been thinking about lately, actually.

When I started this blog, Steph tried to tell me to not expect a big audience. I think she thought I was doing it for ego - a reasonable thought for anyone who knows how big my head can get. I told her at the time that I would be thrilled to have 100 readers in a year.

It's about a year and a half later, and I am amazed and stunned to get an average of about 750 readers a day - about 1000 each weekday and commensurately less on weekends. Thank you, all; it actually makes me feel really good to be thought of as important enough for you to take your time reading. Largely, I judge my blog successful because I am enjoying writing it, and I have an amazing readership, judging by the comments and this.

I don't ask for links on others' blogs, nor do I try to write according to the tips many wonderful and giving bloggers have posted. For me, it's either get this out of my head by writing, or bore my wife and friends silly.

Thanks for reading.


Comments

I consider you one of the best, and you landed in that list I think the first time I came here. You deserve all those readers.

Posted by: Jay Solo on August 5, 2004 09:57 PM

What do you mean "OR bore your wife and friends silly"? That implies that you still don't do that :)

Posted by: Mark L on August 6, 2004 12:54 PM

When you sign in to Blogger, you land on your Dashboard page, a kind of command center featuring all the blogs you have editorial access to, some blogs of note, a link to your Profile page, and recently updated blogs.

Posted by: gift baskets on November 15, 2004 01:10 AM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

August 17, 2004

Best of the Lot

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People just keep writing things I agree with so that I don't have to. Blogs are great that way.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Trust Me

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According to the Washington Post, John Kerry has a secret plan for withdrawal from Iraq (and thus for likely US catastrophe, but the article doesn't mention that). A secret plan? Let's not even start with the comparisons with Nixon, whose secret plan for US withdrawal from Viet Nam was to sell out our allies and snatch political defeat from the jaws of military victory. Let's look instead at what is known, or at least what is conveyed in the article, about Kerry's plan:

John F. Kerry pledged Sunday he would substantially reduce U.S. troop strength in Iraq by the end of his first term in office but declined to offer any details of what he said is his plan to attract significantly more allied military and financial support there.

In interviews on television talk shows, the Democratic presidential nominee said that he saw no reason to send more troops to Iraq and that he would seek allied support to draw down U.S. forces there.

[snip]

"I've been involved in this for a long time, longer than George Bush," he said. "I've spent 20 years negotiating, working, fighting for different kinds of treaties and different relationships around the world. I know that as president there's huge leverage that will be available to me, enormous cards to play, and I'm not going to play them in public. I'm not going to play them before I'm president."

[snip]

Kerry previously has discussed his desire to reduce U.S. forces in Iraq but declined to attach any timetable to that goal. He spoke more extensively about Iraq after his acceptance speech, suggesting he has an exit strategy.

[snip]

The Massachusetts senator said the administration had failed diplomatically, and he asserted that a change in presidents would produce more international support for the United States in Iraq.

"I think that a fresh start changes the equation . . . for leaders in other countries who have great difficulty right now associating themselves with our policy and with the United States because of the way this administration has burned those bridges," Kerry said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Kerry defended his and Edwards's votes against an $87 billion authorization for military and reconstruction costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the Bush campaign has used repeatedly to question Kerry's commitment to U.S. forces. Kerry said he learned in Vietnam that presidents should not get a blank check for policies that do not work.

"We voted to change the policy," he said on CNN's "Late Edition." "We voted in order to get it right."

Kerry supported an amendment that would have paid for the $87 billion by reducing some of Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. The amendment did not require significant policy changes.

[snip]

On domestic issues, Kerry gave a "rock hard" pledge not to raise middle-class taxes if he becomes president, though he said a national emergency or war could change that.

Reminded that the country is at war already, Kerry said, "We're going to reduce the burden in this war, and if we do what we need to do for our economy, we're going to grow the tax base of our country."


In principle, it's reasonable that a presidential candidate would not want to spell out many details in public, particularly when this involves possibly sensitive negotiations with other nations. It's also necessary, though, that the candidate convince the electorate that his policies are sound. In order to do so, the candidate must answer all of the following questions:

How does Kerry answer these questions? Not well, if at all. And when his answer is clear, it is frightening.

What the above makes clear is that John Kerry has no intent of winning the peace in Iraq. His goal is to withdraw our forces without regard to the end state in Iraq (that is what "exit strategy" means as distinct from "strategy to win the war"), to use disagreement with France and others as the rationale for this policy ("seek allied support to draw down U.S. forces" can have no other meaning, since we need no support to pull out or add our own forces and since France, et al, have no forces to add and no will to add them; only diplomatic cover about what good puppies we are can be forthcoming), and to blame President Bush for the inevitable defeat Kerry would have created ("Kerry accused President Bush of misleading the country before the war in Iraq, burning bridges with U.S. allies and having no plan to win peace.").

Kerry plans to lose, and the only reason he is saying it obliquely instead of outright is that he knows saying it outright would win him no votes and would lose him many. This is in easy accord to his past as a Viet Nam war protestor and with his past votes on military and intelligence matters, so it's not terribly surprising.

It would be terrible, though, if carried out, because we would have lost any chance of victory in the Terror Wars for a long time to come: our allies would not trust us any further, so forget about all of the countries currently contributing troops; opposing neutrals (like France, Germany and Russia) would give us nothing but scorn and contempt; our enemies would be proven right, and new terrorists would flock to the cause; our potential allies in any future intervention in the Arab/Muslim world would melt away, knowing they would be betrayed in the end.

That is why Kerry's answers to the four questions above amount to, "Trust me." Because if Kerry said what he plans in plain language, he would be finished politically.

This November, vote as if your life depends on it.


Comments

And, of course, now he has a great economic plan that he can't reveal. You gotta love this campaign strategy. The audacity of 'having' plans but not revealing them to the public. He is trying to get elected, isn't he? Are his plans so bad , so impalatable, that going this route is the better option? Things are looking grimmer and grimmer for Kerry.

Some bumper sticker suggestions for Kerry:

I know, but I'm not telling.

If you want to know where I stand, elect me and I'll tell you.

and my favorite:

Elect me, I have a cunning plan.

Posted by: Brian on August 4, 2004 06:36 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

John Kerry is a Fool

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Evidence: if you knew that your service in Viet Nam was short; that your combat record was, while not dishonorable, open to question; that you claimed things over the years in relation to that combat record that were demonstrably false; that you yourself immediately after your time in Viet Nam called those whom you served with "war criminals" and worse; that you and your supporters accused the President, who served honorably in the National Guard (in a unit that had aircraft in Viet Nam at the time he joined it, and when he had tried to volunteer to serve in Viet Nam) of being AWOL, and in some cases even of desertion - if you knew all of these things, would you make your Viet Nam service the central issue in your campaign for president? If you did decide to make your service the central campaign issue, wouldn't you spend a little time figuring out answers to the accusations which would clearly come up?

John Kerry has made this the central theme of his campaign, and he has clearly not thought through how to respond to the inevitable critics.

On a more depressing note, it's possible that Kerry is not a fool, and that his military service is the most honorable and unquestionable part of his public life, despite serving as Lt. Governor of Massachusetts, and as a Senator for 20 years. In either case, I may have been too pessimistic of George Bush's chances of re-election.

UPDATE: Or, maybe the Kerry campaign did plan for this. (Considering the partisan source (note the domain name, I hope they're wrong. This would be below any kind of dignity or shame.)


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

The Case Against College

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In general, I think college/university has the potential to be of great benefit in one's life. However, the case against that generally begins and ends with the idiots that all too frequently get hired to teach at them. (hat tip: Transterrestrial Musings


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

August 16, 2004

Winning the Terror Wars

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VodkaPundit offers an insightful and much needed post on what it will take to win the war we are in. The key point Stephen Green makes is that this war is an ideological war in the same way that the Cold War was, and so our plan to win must be similar, but because the enemy's ideology is different, the way we win must be different in detail.

The key underlying facts of this war are these:



Our strategy must be tailored to these facts, and I think that Stephen Green's strategy is a good starting point: take the initiative, fight against any challenge (even if we know in advance that we will not win in that particular instance), and remain what we are. In the light of my view of the war, though, I would extend and modify this somewhat.

The modification is to the last point: we must not merely remain what we are, but must articulate and defend that against both internal and external challenges, and must pass on our values to our children actively, as opposed to just letting them get it as best they can from TV and movies. In particular, I believe that a concentration on civics and history are critical. This is far, far more important than arguments over testing, grades, class sizes and the like.

The first extension is that we must modify their culture and replace parts of it with our own, as we did with Japan. In particular, we must democratize the Arab nations and give their people outlets for free expression. This will not only weaken the hold of the jihadis by depriving them of the swill of hatred in which they breed, but will also give them something to cherish in this life, making suicide attacks much less attractive.

The second extension is that, in order to prove to the enemy that their philosophy is bankrupt, we must prove that they do not have their god, as they conceive him, on their side. This must be done without compromising our fundamental values, but it will be brutal and unpleasant (as are all wars), and will require us to make some difficult distinctions.

To do this, we must fight symbolically. First, we must kill the enemy wherever we find him. In particular, we should concentrate on killing imams, mullahs, ayatollahs and other clerical figures who preach jihad. Similarly, where there are madrassas that focus on teaching jihad, we must either destroy them or dry up their funding, and should probably kill the teachers and administrators. Not only will these actions reduce the indoctrination of hatred and xenophobia over the long term, they will also strike directly at the enemy's religious heart: how could god allow this?

Second, we must pick high-value targets for religious reasons as well as tactical ones. Instead of avoiding shrines, we should level them indiscriminately. If mosques encourage jihad, we should level them, too. We should announce quite clearly and calmly that, should any nuclear or chemical attack occur within the US, or against US interests abroad, we will respond by destroying Mecca and Medina utterly. And if it comes down to it, we should destroy Mecca and Medina utterly. Again, the idea is to make them wonder how their god could allow this.

Third, and this will be particularly controversial, we should encourage Christian missionary activity and charity work among the Muslims, and protect the missionaries by force of arms. I'm really not happy with this, because I am not myself Christian and because I believe that a lot of bad things have been done by Christians in the guise of missionary work in the past. Nonetheless, such activity would challenge the jihadis directly on their own ground, and if successful could provoke a cultural change in the Muslim world that would hasten the end of these wars.

Finally, we should pull the gloves off completely and attack our enemies wherever and whenever we find them. If Montessedeq is released by Germany, we should grab him and take him out of the country by force. (Quietly, so as not to unnecessarily provoke the Germans.) Similarly, Moqtada al-Sadr should be dead right about now. We should bomb Iranian military facilities where al Qaeda leaders are hiding, and should assassinate our enemies even in friendly or nominally-friendly countries. If this means that oil supplies are threatened, we should occupy the oilfields and ship the oil ourselves.

Yes, what I'm advocating is a total war of civilizations, exactly what bin Laden has asked for. I think we can take them, and do it convincingly. The alternative is to accustom ourselves to having our citizens periodically and randomly killed by these maniacs. I'm not willing to do that.

Of course, such a course would require a total commitment of our civilization on a broad scale, and may not be politically possible. If that is the case, then we must work diligently at home to bring about the conditions where it would be possible. Or, as a last resort, we could just keep doing what we are doing now, and when the next and worse 9/11 hits, the political landscape will be significantly changed. The downside, of course, is potentially millions of dead Americans and a genocidal response. Perhaps, instead, we could be working on creating the political will now?

UPDATE: Be sure to read the trackbacks on Stephen Green's post, particularly this one.


Comments

Jeff,
As a first-time visitor (from Vodkapundit), I commend your clarity of thinking and writing style, but most of all your unflinching resolve to call this clash what it is, and not bow to the 'But Islam is a religion of peace!' bullshit. You are now bookmarked, my friend.

Posted by: Rob on August 10, 2004 04:34 PM

Ditto.

Oh wait, that's taken isn't it?

We cannot win a war we refuse to acknowledge as such. And Vietnam (yeah, I know) should have taught us the fallacy of attempting to fight a limited, politically correct war. While I believe the vast majority of Americans would support a war against our enemies (If presented with a convincing case for it's neccessity.), I do not believe they will support a holding action.

Posted by: Bruce Badger on August 10, 2004 05:05 PM

Agree with your strategy, but disagree with two of your tactics.

1. We should leave Islamic Holy places alone unless they are being used as fortresses, and even then, we should be as discrete as possible without endangering lives. For example, it might be possible for the Iraqis to dislodge Sadr. There are many traditionally religious Muslims who are not Islamists but who might be angered into a coalition if we attack their holy places.

2. We should not attempt to evangelize in the ME for much the same reasons as stated above. On the other hand, it's important to secularize as many of these cultures as we can and as soon as possible. While equally distasteful to the Isalmists, there is much of Western culture that will prove very attractive to moderate Muslims.

Other than that, I agree that we're in a war and should agressively destroy the enemy--radical Islam.

Posted by: Old Dad on August 10, 2004 05:20 PM

Yep...bookmarked it is. Clarity, vision, leadership and action are what is required from this point on. No longer do we have the luxury of discussion, debate and multinational input. Well spoken. Thank you.

Posted by: Cog on August 10, 2004 05:21 PM

I'm thinking of missionary work, pagan missionaries could have a big impact. If we really want to produce an "Allah, why have you forsaken us?" reaction, a skyclad Beltaine in the ruins of Mecca is probably the best option.

Posted by: Karl Gallagher on August 10, 2004 05:27 PM

Well, Karl, I think the part that would really disturb them would be when we roasted the whole pig for the celebratory feast. I hear they have a black stone that would make a great carving slab...

Posted by: Jeff on August 10, 2004 05:32 PM

Jeff, I think what you're describing would produce a war within western civilization. It may be necessary but I hope it doesn't come to this.

I do agree that we need to pursue the War on Terror with a greater sense of urgency than we're showing righr now. Check out the post I wrote in response to Steve's Game Plan.

Posted by: Dave Schuler on August 10, 2004 07:01 PM

The very next battle that MUST be won in this war is taking place Nov 2. Without George Bush in office, there will be no offense and a weak defense, a formulae for defeat with potentially devasting consequences.

Please use all the free time you have between now and election day to volunteer for this battle, in any capacity you can.

Jeff and Steve have connected the sordid black dots for us and it is alarming to say the least, but not something we did not already have the intelligence on from various sources.

Please contact your local Republican office or Representative and offer to help. You will find the party has a plan to identify each and every Independent and Republican voter to be sure they get to the polls to vote. VERY IMPORTANT!

Posted by: Jim R on August 10, 2004 11:26 PM

Old Dad ---
You state that we should not evangelize in the ME for the fear that it may anger Muslims. I'm afraid this is dangerously cramped thinking, on the simple merit that Muslims ARE allowed to freely evangelize in the west.

If we allow an ideology to be spread without countering it, we will lose. That's why there must be secular regimes in the ME that allow all faiths to evangelize. On a level playing field, let the best ideas win.

Posted by: Pale Infidel on August 11, 2004 01:53 AM

I completely agree. I've long held the proposition that we need to prove to the radicals (as well as just about everyone else in the Middle East) that they may pray to Allah, but Allah prays to us.

Posted by: nemesisenforcer on August 17, 2004 07:55 PM

It is absolutely imperative that Islamist Ideology be Stopped. Containment, is only a temporary solution. At it's heart, it must be crippled. When only a Mosque is Standing after an American Bombing, they are Encouraged. If only a Mosque is Destroyed, they will be disheartened. The people at the heart of the religion, are the central figures guiding their war. Therefore, only by destroying the heart of their beliefs, can the objective of their beliefs be permanently averted.

It is not enough to just go after "The Terrorists". To uproot the Poison Tree, we must go after The Terrorist, all of His Friends, All of his Religious Leaders and All of The Governments that Protect Them.

In the short term, Kerry will not fight this war. Bush, on the other hand, will do whatever he politically can. Therefore, he is the best choice Now. In the long term, we needed someone of Audacity in Charge. Iran does not want to become the next Iraq. Well, we shall not become the next Spain.

Posted by: Dok V on September 27, 2004 04:58 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

What I Do (Almost)

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Interestingly, a project very closely related to mine has made the "news" in the New York Post. The article discusses FedLine Advantage, which is an expansion and modernization of the old FedLine DOS which has been in place for a long time, and the article is about as hysterical as I would expect from the media. Witness:

"If a security breach strikes the very heart of the financial world and money stops moving around, then our financial system will literally start to collapse and chaos will ensue."

Um, yeah. It's not exactly a secret that if "money stops moving around, then our financial system will literally start to collapse". Of course, no evidence is presented as to why that might happen, or even how. Or for that matter, how that differs from the current system, in which the same statement applies.

What I work on is the access and identity management system that protects this infrastructure, so I have a pretty fair understanding of the security measures in place. It's nowhere near as horrible as painted in the article, or in the comments to this Slashdot post. Believe it or not, these things do get thought out; if you have the ability to transfer millions of dollars, the Fed knows who you are and how you got that authority, and you won't be getting in unless you have the proper physical components and knowledge. And we'll know about it. And no, I'm not going to tell you how to get those things.

I don't know why people just assume that the Fed is incompetent about this kind of thing. They sometimes make bad decisions for bad reasons, like any organization, but it's not like they don't know what is at stake and what it takes to protect the infrastructure.


Comments

I don't see why being Web-based will harm security, the problem is the pipe it flows over, not the application that the user sees. Of course said application should be idiot proof. But don't forget:

If you make an idiot-proof system, someone will invent a bigger idiot.

As to why these stories: hysteria sells.

Posted by: Oscar on August 16, 2004 05:51 PM

That's because the article is dealing with security experts talking about "potential" problems. Yes, hooking it up to TCP/IP exposes it to all of the script-kiddies out there, so the potential is there.

However, I would expect that the Fed would know what it's doing.

(Then again, maybe that's not a good assumption...)

Posted by: Mark L on August 17, 2004 09:47 AM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Goodbye, Illinois

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The largest effect of Alan Keyes running for Senate in Illinois might be to ensure that President Bush has no hope of capturing Illinois. After going against his prior statements about only running for Senate for the state where you actually live (Keyes is from Maryland), Keyes is now supporting "reparations" for slavery. This position won't win the very conservative Keyes any votes among liberal blacks, who will vote for Barack Obama, but it will likely discourage conservatives from coming out to the polls. By depressing that turnout, Keyes makes it much more difficult for Bush to win Illinois (already a difficult - but not impossible - state for Bush).


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Nyet

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No way can this be Constitutional.


Comments

It *might* be constitutional as states determine ballot qualifications and they have defined " Communist " here not as a Marxist but as a person actively engaged in sedition, which I believe remains a federal offense. Some states disqualify felons from running for office or require certain qualifications ( a law degree for attorney-general for example) that exclude most citizens.

Content-neutrality might be the key but i'm not certain.

Posted by: mark safranski on August 31, 2004 10:04 PM
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August 15, 2004

Winning the Terror Wars

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VodkaPundit offers an insightful and much needed post on what it will take to win the war we are in. The key point Stephen Green makes is that this war is an ideological war in the same way that the Cold War was, and so our plan to win must be similar, but because the enemy's ideology is different, the way we win must be different in detail.

The key underlying facts of this war are these:


Our strategy must be tailored to these facts, and I think that Stephen Green's strategy is a good starting point: take the initiative, fight against any challenge (even if we know in advance that we will not win in that particular instance), and remain what we are. In the light of my view of the war, though, I would extend and modify this somewhat.

The modification is to the last point: we must not merely remain what we are, but must articulate and defend that against both internal and external challenges, and must pass on our values to our children actively, as opposed to just letting them get it as best they can from TV and movies. In particular, I believe that a concentration on civics and history are critical. This is far, far more important than arguments over testing, grades, class sizes and the like.

The first extension is that we must modify their culture and replace parts of it with our own, as we did with Japan. In particular, we must democratize the Arab nations and give their people outlets for free expression. This will not only weaken the hold of the jihadis by depriving them of the swill of hatred in which they breed, but will also give them something to cherish in this life, making suicide attacks much less attractive.

The second extension is that, in order to prove to the enemy that their philosophy is bankrupt, we must prove that they do not have their god, as they conceive him, on their side. This must be done without compromising our fundamental values, but it will be brutal and unpleasant (as are all wars), and will require us to make some difficult distinctions.

To do this, we must fight symbolically. First, we must kill the enemy wherever we find him. In particular, we should concentrate on killing imams, mullahs, ayatollahs and other clerical figures who preach jihad. Similarly, where there are madrassas that focus on teaching jihad, we must either destroy them or dry up their funding, and should probably kill the teachers and administrators. Not only will these actions reduce the indoctrination of hatred and xenophobia over the long term, they will also strike directly at the enemy's religious heart: how could god allow this?

Second, we must pick high-value targets for religious reasons as well as tactical ones. Instead of avoiding shrines, we should level them indiscriminately. If mosques encourage jihad, we should level them, too. We should announce quite clearly and calmly that, should any nuclear or chemical attack occur within the US, or against US interests abroad, we will respond by destroying Mecca and Medina utterly. And if it comes down to it, we should destroy Mecca and Medina utterly. Again, the idea is to make them wonder how their god could allow this.

Third, and this will be particularly controversial, we should encourage Christian missionary activity and charity work among the Muslims, and protect the missionaries by force of arms. I'm really not happy with this, because I am not myself Christian and because I believe that a lot of bad things have been done by Christians in the guise of missionary work in the past. Nonetheless, such activity would challenge the jihadis directly on their own ground, and if successful could provoke a cultural change in the Muslim world that would hasten the end of these wars.

Finally, we should pull the gloves off completely and attack our enemies wherever and whenever we find them. If Montessedeq is released by Germany, we should grab him and take him out of the country by force. (Quietly, so as not to unnecessarily provoke the Germans.) Similarly, Moqtada al-Sadr should be dead right about now. We should bomb Iranian military facilities where al Qaeda leaders are hiding, and should assassinate our enemies even in friendly or nominally-friendly countries. If this means that oil supplies are threatened, we should occupy the oilfields and ship the oil ourselves.

Yes, what I'm advocating is a total war of civilizations, exactly what bin Laden has asked for. I think we can take them, and do it convincingly. The alternative is to accustom ourselves to having our citizens periodically and randomly killed by these maniacs. I'm not willing to do that.

Of course, such a course would require a total commitment of our civilization on a broad scale, and may not be politically possible. If that is the case, then we must work diligently at home to bring about the conditions where it would be possible. Or, as a last resort, we could just keep doing what we are doing now, and when the next and worse 9/11 hits, the political landscape will be significantly changed. The downside, of course, is potentially millions of dead Americans and a genocidal response. Perhaps, instead, we could be working on creating the political will now?

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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

What Would You Do?

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When evaluating strategy, most people tend to think very shallowly: they act as though their enemy is a static entity which absorbs what their actions, but does not act intelligently on its own. There is a technical term for these people: losers. If you plan only for what you know now, and assume that your enemy will not change and adapt just as you change and adapt, then you will lose. And by the way, this is true in business and politics as in warfare.

The way to think about strategy in a way that allows you to achieve your objectives (that is, to win) is to assume that your enemy knows everything that you are planning and all your caveats and weaknesses and guesses. Then, you look at the situation from their point of view, including that knowledge, and you think: if I were them, what would I do to make life miserable for me? In other words, you have to plan for what you know of the enemy's capabilities and goals, and assume that the enemy knows your intentions and capabilities with complete certainty and veracity. Then, you have to take your best shot and hope it was enough.

Trent Telenko hints at that kind of thinking in this post:

Does anyone doubt for a moment that Israel will, absolutely, positively WILL preemptively destroy Iranian nuclear facilities, with nukes if necessary, to prevent another holocaust?"

The answer, of course, is that many people doubt that, because of the problem with thinking that I outlined above.

But let's look at Iran's position, and assume for a moment that we are the absolute ruler of Iran. Iran's position is this:


Given this situation, what would you do? Me, I'd do everything possible to tie down the United States military so they'd be too busy to invade me, and I would develop nuclear weapons as quickly as possible, mostly by exchanging cash and oil, which I have in plenty, for nuclear technology, which France and Russia and China and North Korea have. I would build my nuclear program largely underground, and widely dispersed. There is ample evidence that Iran has attempted and is attempting to do all of these things.

Now let's look at Israel's situation:


Given this situation, if you were the absolute ruler of Israel, what would you do? I would try to convince the other countries to aggressively act to prevent nuclear proliferation into the Arab/Muslim world. I would also maintain and expand my nuclear arsenal and delivery systems. I would try to foment discord and division between different Arab factions. I would try to disengage from Palestine and let them tear themselves apart in factional fighting. I would maintain my conventional military strength and stockpile as much fuel and ammunition as I could against any eventuality.

Most importantly, if it became apparent that any Arab or Muslim nation were about to obtain a nuclear capability, and no other nation were going to stop that from happening, I would annihilate that capability no matter the cost, because the alternative would be the annihilation of Israel.

In the case of Iran, that poses some problems: because the Iranian capability is spread among a large number of sites, and is deeply buried, so it would be difficult to destroy or hinder. The upshot of this is that I would have to use nuclear weapons for attacks on at least several, though not all, Iranian targets.

But then I have another problem: Israel would be so roundly condemned for this use of nuclear weapons (witness the condemnation of the United States over Iraq when the US was almost immaculate in warfighting), and given that this is only the normal reaction to Israel existing, it is likely that a large number of nations would move towards sanctions against Israel. In addition to the economic damage, it would be likely that supplies of fuel and weapons from outside would almost completely dry up, and that would mean that in a relatively small amount of time - 18 months at most - Israel would be a shambles. It's also likely that Egypt and Jordan would be compelled to renounce their peace treaties, and it's not inconceivable that the Arab nations would launch an all-out war. If they did this 18 months after the strike, Israel might not be strong enough to withstand the assault.

Given these considerations, I would be strongly tempted to remove my enemies once and for all, so that they couldn't strike in my moment of weakness. The way to do that, of course, is to eliminate their armies, their political structures, and critical infrastructure that they could use to rebuild. This would have to be thorough enough to keep those enemies incapacitated for at least 10 years, because it could take that long to recover Israel's reputation and (more critically) economy and supply situation. So, if I were fairly convinced that Israel was in grave danger of attack in the aftermath of taking out Iran's nuclear capability, I would most likely hit at all of the Arab/Muslim world's military facilities and large units, industrial base, critical infrastructure (including any large cities), and so forth. Some of these attacks would be conventional, but most would be nuclear. And as part of that, I would have to strike Pakistan and eliminate their military and nuclear capability as well, because they are the only Muslim state with a declared nuclear capability, and even if they didn't want to strike directly, there's no guarantee that the ISI wouldn't give weapons to terrorists for revenge attacks.

Now this is not all a given, obviously, but it's clearly possible. So now to the most important point: if you are in charge of US policy, what would you do to head off this course of events?

In the first place, Iran is already your enemy directly, and the current government, while weak, is unlikely to fall to internal revolt. In the second place, Iran is seeking nuclear capability, which would make further intervention after that point very, very costly. In the third place, Israel would go to virtually any length, including potentially nuclear war against the entire Arab/Muslim world, to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

What is it worth to you to prevent this? Would you let Israel annihilate the Arab/Muslim world?

Would you play kick the can via treaties, preventing Israel from stopping this by making it appear that Iran wasn't still seeking a nuclear capability? (This is essentially what Bill Clinton did in Korea in 1996.)

Would you bomb Iranian nuclear facilities to hopefully set them back a few years? (This is what Israel did to Iraq in the 1980s and what Bill Clinton did to Iraq in 1998.) Would you be willing to use nuclear weapons yourself to ensure the destruction of critical and deeply-buried facilities?

Would you be willing to foment a revolution in Iran, and arm and supply it, and provide air power and special forces in support of it? (This is essentially what George Bush did in Afghanistan?)

Would you be willing to invade and occupy Iran? (This is what George Bush did in Iraq.)

How many American lives would you trade for potentially tens of millions of Muslim lives, when many of those Muslims would as soon see you dead?

The thing is, these are not hypothetical questions. They are the questions that the next few years will put to the President, and so they are questions you should consider (if you are an American) when you vote.

For the record, I believe that Kerry would, in extremis, be willing to conventionally bomb Iranian nuclear facilities, and much less likely to support a revolution. Most likely, though, is that Kerry would play kick the can until it's too late to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear capability, at which point it's pretty likely that the Middle East would erupt in nuclear war. (For which I have no doubt that Kerry would cast blame everywhere except upon himself.)

I believe that President Bush would be likely to invade Iran, very likely to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities (potentially, but not likely, with our own nuclear weapons), somewhat likely to support a revolution, and unlikely to either play kick the can or to leave it to the Israelis.

(And frankly, that's a large part of why I will vote for President Bush despite disagreeing with him on abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, government funding of entitlements and a host of other issues.)

Your beliefs may vary, of course, but I do hope you will at least take the possibilities into account when you vote.

UPDATE (8/12): Francis Porretto has been thinking similar thoughts.


Comments

"Given the genocidal hatred of the Muslims towards Israel, it's a given that if a Muslim country were to obtain nuclear weapons, those weapons would be used against Israel more or less immediately."

Uh, Pakistan, six years and counting...

Also, the Iranian preference is not to kill all Israelis. The Iranian preference (at least as expressed by Khomeini's successor, Khamenei) is for a new exodus. The West sees Israel as a haven for refugees from Nazism and anti-Semitism, but the Islamic world (and indeed most of the Third World) sees it as an ideological colonial state, one of the last in the world. They see Israel much as we see North Korea - as the last holdout against a global tide of change, hanging on thanks to its nuclear arsenal and its superpower patron.

Posted by: mitch p. on August 11, 2004 06:44 PM

Very perceptive comment, mitch p..

Jeff, another factor for your consideration is that it looks very much as though it will not be possible to stabilize the situation in Iraq without removing the current regime in Iran. Iranian-supported or Iranian per se forces are active in both the north (Mosul) and the south (Najaf).

The first thing I'd do is get in the Way-back Machine and announce that the official policy of the U. S. was regime change in Iran back in June 2003. That being impossible I'd start doing hot pursuit incursions initially with special forces subsequently with heavier forces.

The ardent desire of the Bush Administration to serialize the War on Terror does not appear to be working.

Posted by: Dave Schuler on August 11, 2004 07:11 PM

A nice touch would be PM Allawi dragging a number of captured Iranians in front of the TV cameras and asking for the UN's help against Iranian aggression.

Posted by: Dave Schuler on August 11, 2004 07:33 PM

Spot on! But just a nit-- the holocaust comment is Trent's, not Joe's. Prob'ly they would both take umbrage at the confusion. :)
Mitch P.: The second half of your comment is brilliant-- but Pakistan is a secular state with a military dictator-- the jihaadiis keep trying to bump him off! :)

Posted by: jinnderella on August 11, 2004 11:13 PM

Oops; thinking one thing and typing another. I corrected the attribution.

I realize that Pakistan sort of breaks the mold, but the reason for that comes to one word: India. Pakistan cannot use their weapons against Israel (as things now stand) for fear of being disarmed against India.

I don't know yet if the Bush administration's strategy is working, because I'm not certain of where they are going; they haven't fully articulated that. I am guessing that their actual strategy is a slow series of democratizations. It could also be to stabilize the oil supply and then launch into a rapid round of attacks on countries neighboring Iraq and hostile to the US. In either case, Iran pops up to the top of the agenda.

My hope is that the Bush administration did not go into Iraq without a vision for where to go afterwards. I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt, but unless there's some kind of aggressive action by next Summer, I'll have to conclude that they've dropped the ball.

And I do realize that the Arabs tend to see Israel as a colonial nation. I simply don't give their view credence in this case: they are simply wrong. That's not a popular term to use these days - like evil - but it is nonetheless the appropriate term. The Arabs can't get over Israel so far, and if they don't learn to do so, Israel will likely be their downfall.

Posted by: Jeff on August 11, 2004 11:50 PM

Your post is good, but I don't think Israel would need to annihilate other Arab countries after a first strike against Iran nuke facilities.
This first strike would set the example for any country willing to destroy Israel: Israel will crush anyone with nuclear weapons if threatened.
That's a powerful message, don't you think ?
Anyway, the first strike option for Israel means no peace or statu-quo with Arab countries, so it's also a tricky move... Is it better to wait and have Tel Aviv leveled to fight back ?

Posted by: LMAE on August 12, 2004 08:38 AM

Let's put it this way, if my choice were to be alive and hated or dead and admired, I'd pick alive and hated. If my choice as ruler of Israel were to have Tel Aviv (and all the people therein) and be hated, or to lose Tel Aviv (and all the people therein) and be hated more, guess which way I'd pick? I think that any rational person in Israel's position would choose to strike first rather than be destroyed, and be damned to public opinion from the rest of the world (who've hardly been friendly to Israel in the first place).

Posted by: Jeff on August 12, 2004 09:12 AM

The OP here is an interesting and intricate analysis, and well-thought-out given its assumptions.

However, I believe almost all of those assumptions are flatly wrong.

One of the central problems is the repeated question, "If you were the absolute ruler of...." None of these places have absolute rulers, not even nominal absolute rulers. Everybody has political considerations that keep them fom doing what they think would be absolutely best.

First, you are way off about iranian intentions. Their immediate intentions are to survive and prosper. It's like -- before the civil war southern politicians may have *wanted* to spread slavery all over the USA. They may have wanted to have slavery all over the world. And during the war there may have been southern politicians who announced the intention of conquering the entire north and imposing black slavery there. But any such intentions were completely irrelevant to the situation; there was no political way they could legislate slavery in the north before the war and no way they could do it militarily during the war.

The US does not at present have the forces to occupy iran, though we could develop them in a few years if we still have the oil and money.

And incidentally, iran's discontent with their leaders would melt away like snow in Death Valley the day we invaded. The USSR put aside their discontent with *Stalin* when they got invaded. The absolute worst way to foment discontent is to invade. If they were ready to revolt already, and we were just *helping* them like we almost did in iraq in 1991, that's different. But depending on iranian dissidents to help an invasion would be like the chinese depending on libertarians and greens to help them invade the USA.

I believe you're entirely right in your last couple of points about iran. They think they need nukes to keep us from being exceptionally mean to them, and by all evidence they've hardened the sites and probably put up a lot of dummy sites.

Israel has the primary intention to survive and prosper. They allow harebrained covert ops and military adventures only when those don't threaten their immediate destruction. Iranian nukes seem like a big threat, but there's a strong chance that a MAD strategy would work. Israelis wouldn't want to depend on that but they wouldn't want to depend on a crazy crackpot alternative either.

Iran's view of israel is kind of like my view of my downstairs neighbor. I really wish he'd go away but I'm not going to firebomb him. When he does something outrageously annoying my wife fatasizes about slashing his tires or putting butyl mercaptan in his air conditioner, but it's just fantasy. The israelis know it. An iranian bomb would be a worry for israel, but not something to justify catastrophic action.

I tend to agree with you about sanctions on israel after a pre-emptive nuclear strike. Likely any ship that docks in israel would not be allowed to dock at any other port in the mediterranean. Etc. it would be grim. I'm not at all clear that 10 years would be enough to restore relations. Very likely this would *not* happen, but there's a strong chance it would.

I tend to disagree about all-out war. Israel is much stronger than its neighbors, and it has a lot of nukes. Would a lot of arab nations volunteer to get nuked? They'd do better to let iran get its sympathy -- probably a whole lot more than we got for 9/11. Israel would lose so much public sympathy in the USA that they might not control the whole Senate. Our financial aid to them might even be cut. It would be really stupid for egypt or syria to volunteer to be nuked too. Maybe they'd do it and get nuked, it isn't impossible. Regardless, as you point out, a nuclear strike by israel would be immediately disastrous.

Your alternative of nuking the entire middle east back to the stone age is ridiculous. Israel wouldn't survive that. Close down every fishery in the mediterranean? Suffer their own fallout? Half the population would leave in disgust, and another quarter would leave to get away from the consequences. An insane israeli government might do it but it would be the end, as much as getting nuked. Not to mention that if they nuke pakistan, the paks just might manage to nuke them back.

So it's a choice. Do they nuke the iranian sites, or do they depend on MAD? One is an immediate disaster, the other is a risk. Oh, there's a third choice, pressure the USA to do something. IF necessary, tell the USA that they've thought it over and their only possible choice is to nuke the whole middle east unless the USA handles it. Get as many zionists in the USA as possible to parrot that threat, and try to force the USA to pull their chestnuts out of the fire.

Clearly the third choice is the best, and your essay is a part of it. They are using you to help get the USA to do something that might be really, really stupid. Because they aren't that stupid.

Now for the USA. We can't pretend the iranians aren't trying to make nukes, not when they'll have them very soon. That would blow up before the 2006 elections, and whoever is in power would probably lose votes in congress.

We would be really stupid to nuke iranian sites, we might get sanctions against *us*. And it would only set them back a few years if it worked.

If we support a revolution, why would we think the good guys would want nukes any less than the bad guys? That doesn't help us get rid of nukes.

We don't have the troops to occupy iran. Maybe we could raise them and train them before the nukes are up, I dunno.

But here's another thought. Think of it from the iranian POV again. They need nukes to stop us from doing something really bad to them. Bush was stupidly calling them Axis of Evil before 9/11, they've had years to figure they're targetted.

Would they reveal they're doing nukes when they're 2 years from having them, giving Bush 2 years to respond? Maybe, if they had no other choice.

But suppose they worked out a way to get their nukes much quicker than expected.

Bush could be planning to do something drastic in 2005, before the nukes are ready. They announce they have 27 nukes on, say, Nov 1, 2004. Then the USA doesn't have to decide what to do to stop iran from getting nukes.

At that point both the USA and the israelis have a different choice. Do we depend on MAD to avoid a nuclear war, or do we stage a pre-emptive nuclear attack to prevent a nuclear war?

If I was running iran that's what I'd try to do. Find ways to get the nukes faster than the enemy expects, to disrupt their scheduling. And if I was running iran, I'd want them so I could do MAD, not so I could bomb israel and get bombed back. If Bush calls me Axis of Evil I want him not to invade. It *doesn't matter* what else I want if I think Bush is going to invade. I have to stop him before I do anything else. Bush *required* me to try for nukes with his loose talk.

If I was running iraq I'd would wonder why Bush did that. Why did he announce his intentions years before he was ready to carry them out? I can't think of any good reasons. That would make me really nervous. It couldn't just be that he's real real stupid, I'd figure he must have some special plan....

Posted by: J Thomas on August 13, 2004 10:02 AM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Nothing Serious...

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I'm just trying to piss off the Olympic organizers as much as possible.

I suppose if I really wanted to piss them off, I'd alter the image into a parody. But I'm too lazy for that.

Did I mention how much I hate link policies? It annoys me because it's an attempt to have it both ways: get exposure and use others' resources, without giving exposure or allowing others to use your resource. Bah!


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Cronkite Fails to Leave Graciously

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I was going to shred Cronkite for his farewell essay, but Mark Safranski has taken care of it.


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We can only hope this was Cronkite's final effort at spinning his elder statesman of journalism status into the the position of National Blowhard.

Much obliged for the link !

Posted by: mark safranski on August 19, 2004 05:18 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

August 14, 2004

Shoot as Many Pan-Africans as Possible, Maybe Even a Few Queers

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OK, I thought that this shirt was hilarious the first time I saw it, but apparently some people think otherwise (the title comes from one of the early comments to that post). (Thanks to Instapundit for the link; I don't read Atrios myself, not that there's anything wrong with that. :-) The funny thing is that now free speech in support of a part of the Constitution is fascist, for some people, if the speech disagrees with their cherished beliefs.


Now I think I have to get one of these just to piss off a few humor-challenged Lefties. Maybe two; Steph would like one.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

The Silence of the LAN

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I've been in Chicago on a contract for some time now, and had come back for two weeks to get some stuff done. Last Saturday, an hour before we left, everything was fine. On the way out, Steph mentioned that her webmail wasn't working. I figured I'd check it when we got back to Chicago.

Except that I couldn't get into the server.

After a long conversation with Brian, it transpired that there was no bootable drive on the machine. And I didn't have any Linux boot CDs here. And the only CD burner left at home was in the garage. And the machine it attaches to was disassembled.

So here I am in Texas again this weekend, and thankfully was able to recover the data off the dead drive (the system wouldn't even recognize it at first). So I'm back - or at least the system is, and all is well, or soon will be.


Comments

I was wondering what was wrong. Glad it only dumb computer stuff rather than (as I had feared) that you had dumped the web site.

The problems that you had are exactly the reasons that I have my own site hosted rather than hosting it myself (although I've been administering other peoples' web servers since 1994).

Posted by: Dave Schuler on August 29, 2004 08:21 AM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

August 12, 2004

WTF?

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I just cannot wrap my head around the phrase "worship the Goddess and the terrorists have won" (paraphrased from this editorial). I really can't. (hat tip: The Wild Hunt)

How about, "Decide that you (or others on your behalf) should force people to worship your religion - because clearly all others are false - and the only difference between you and the jihadis is the name of your god".

UPDATE: Forgot the link. (It was late.)


Comments

Who said this?

It strikes me as something from some of the more virulent and intolerant strains or Christianity, but I'm interested in knowing who said it.

Posted by: Aubrey Turner on August 20, 2004 08:07 AM

I've now read the link and I wish I hadn't. Obviously, this guy's got a bug up his ass about people not believing the same thing as him.

But what struck me was his equation that rejection of his version of monotheism is somehow the same as moral relativism. The idea that one has to subscribe to a single god, specifically the Judeo-Christian notion of god, or one can't have any moral ideals is one of my pet peeves. One doesn't need God or Buddah or Allah or whatever conception of some diety that people come up with to arrive at set of fairly universal moral standards.

Of course, doing so without consulting his particular religious dogma in this case may mean that I'll disagree with his choices in some of those matters, or more likely, I'll disagree with the scope of his moral choices (I tend to stick to a very small set of moral "rules" and leave people to do what they want provided they don't hurt others). But, of course, disagreement is heresy!

Oh well, this is just one more little mark in my book of reasons why I can't stand organized religion...

Posted by: Aubrey Turner on August 20, 2004 08:52 AM

I can't find the link, but I probably shouldn't read it anyway.

Stupid argument. This is not a war between Islam and Christianity. It's a war between Islam and everyone else. And anyway ... what's the point of saying it? "Oh! I see! Well, I want to win this one, so I'll just change my religious faith and my entire conception of the world and how it works. Mmmm, shiny thing. I wonder what I'll buy at Starbuck's today?"

Posted by: Stephanie on August 20, 2004 09:48 AM

Definitely a buffoon. I am not a pagan, but I have always liked those novels about Jesus as a mystery religion teacher who was born Jewish. They make very entertaining reading, not to mention that the Gospel of John sounds more neo-platonist than modern Xian, and is one of the best books of the new testament. I agree with the tenor of the comments here that this guy is nuts, but I do think he may be slightly less dangerous than OBL.

Posted by: Oscar on August 20, 2004 10:07 AM

I can't stand organized religion either; it's why I picked a disorganized one.

Really, though, what gets me the most about this is the whole conception of morality as requiring attachment to some god. Technically, Christians, Jews and Moslems worship the same god. A Christian could not deny the god of the Moslems without denying the god of the Jews, and thus their own god. Both Christians and Moslems explicitly say that their god is the god of Abraham.

Given this, how can one say that morality is only valid if attached to a particular god, but then go on to deny other moral codes attached to the same god?

I think Christianity has one of the best moral codes extant (in theory, too frequently not in practice): love thy neighbor as thyself. I prefer the Wiccan moral code: an it harm none, do what thou wilt. (It removes the sociopaths from absolution.) But in general, such a moral code is a response to the problem of people living together in (hoped-for) tranquility, rather than a characteristic of one's mode of worship of the Divine.

Posted by: Jeff on August 20, 2004 11:16 AM

This issue also relates to teh "Holy Sites"(TM) of Islam. Both Islam and Christianinty have made a practice of placing their religious sites on the location of sites of religions they were trying to displace - many examples in England and Mexico for Chrsitianity, the Dome of the Rock and the Mosque in India on the site of the earlier temple to Ram, being examples for Islam.

I would claim that there are only two ways for religions to coexist:
1. By putting society/government first and protecting all religions - anathema to Islam asfar as I can tell.
2. Adopting a syncretist approach, as Hinduism and the Greek and Roman pagans did: just coopt the god by bringing him/her into your pantheon. - also anathema to Islam.

Conclusion: Islam is f**cked, and at least some Mulsims know it and are resisting.

Counterpoint: Shi'ites generally believe that government cannot be GOOD until the hidden imam returns, which make most of them keep away from politics. The Iranian brand due to Khomeini is rather exceptional in this regard.

Posted by: Oscar on August 21, 2004 08:36 AM
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My Electoral College Prediction

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OK, I predicted that President Bush would take at least 360 votes in the electoral college. Here, via the calculator at the National Archives, is my result: Bush gets 369, Kerry gets 169.

Here is the result in visual form, using MyWorld's "visited states" map, since I couldn't find an electoral college calculator with a map that would export the map. Bush states are in Red, and Kerry states in White:

My logic is this: after months of the Bush campaign being essentially silent, and a huge media investment in John Kerry's campaign, the best Kerry can do is pull roughly even. The RNC is starting, and there will likely be a temporary shift of about 5-8 points in Bush's favor, which will fall to a 3% or so boost within a couple of weeks. The Bush campaign will begin heavy advertising and public appearances, and this will start to give a counter-argument to Senator Kerry's so-far almost unopposed campaign.

Kerry has no counter argument to make, really. Consider that the Swift Boat Vets have pushed the Kerry campaign almost into hysterics, with an ad buy 1% the size of the Democrat-inclined 527 groups combined ad buys. This inability to respond to reasoned arguments with reasoned arguments will not help against the experienced and canny Bush.

Combined with the debates, where Bush will almost certainly wipe the floor with Kerry (unless a very biased moderator is found), this will add up to a shift of 4-6% in Bush's favor by election day, assuming no major events between now and then. So I took the current standings, and shifted them 4 points towards Bush, to be conservative and account for what I expect to be massive Democrat fraud, giving ties to Bush since I used the low-end estimate for his polling gain, and then applying a fudge factor (for example, this method says Oregon will go to Bush, but I think it is more likely to go to Kerry). In every case of "fudge factor" doubt, I gave the state to Kerry except one: the governor's scandal in NJ will hurt the Democrats, who are already not as far ahead there as they'd like to be, and I think Bush will get a larger support gain there than anywhere else except New York (but he won't get enough to take New York).

This method leads to the map above.

UPDATE (9/12): Looks like the stable fall-off boost comes to about 4%+, a little better than expected.


Comments

Jeff,

With Arnold hitting one out of the park and his approval rating over 70% you may want to add California to that list.

Posted by: Ron McDonald on September 2, 2004 12:22 PM

Ronald, the governor and president are two different positions. They have nothing to do with each other, and shouldn't. Just because the gov. is doing a "good job" in the state, doesn't mean that everyone will vote for the same political party as the gov. Think about it

Posted by: Evan on October 1, 2004 09:42 AM

IMO you are retarded. Bush will wipe the floor with Kerry in the debate huh? Yeah notsomuch. Haha, bye bye Bush!

Posted by: Bob on October 5, 2004 11:31 AM

Well, I'll consider your opinion for what it's worth. My general scale for judging opinion enters a zero for ad hominem, so I suppose we're done.

As a general update to the situation so far, Bush's convention bounce was greater than expected, and was widening faster than expected. Kerry did well enough in the first debate to halt the fall, and maybe gain another point back. However, the spread appears to be now about where I predicted it would end up at the terminus of the campaign, so I'm still happy with my prediction.

Posted by: Jeff on October 5, 2004 03:03 PM

http://synapse.princeton.edu/~sam/pollcalc.html

Posted by: lrose@pleasanton.k12.ca.us on October 8, 2004 04:52 PM

Wanna Bet

Posted by: on October 14, 2004 01:29 PM

Honestly...what do you have to be smoking to seriously think that bush will pull off 369 electoral votes and kerry only 169??? Please stop doing drugs it lowers your IQ.

Posted by: mara&erin on October 27, 2004 02:08 PM

Honestly...what do you have to be smoking to seriously think that bush will pull off 369 electoral votes and kerry only 169??? Please stop doing drugs it lowers your IQ.

Posted by: mara&erin on October 27, 2004 02:09 PM

Your logic has bowled me over. How silly can I have been to argue with logic like "Wanna Bet" and "what do you have to be smoking to seriously think that bush [sic] will pull off 369 electoral votes and kerry [sic] only 169??? Please stop doing drugs it lowers your IQ." Judging by your grammar and punctuation, you should know, of course.

Anyway, I guess we'll see on Tuesday, eh?

Posted by: Jeff on October 27, 2004 08:07 PM
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August 11, 2004

Expat Yank Blows a Gasket

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I mean that title in a good way.


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The Honorable Thing to Do...

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...is for Senator Shelby to resign. (hat tip: VodkaPundit) This kind of leak is no more defensible than Joe Wilson's or Sandy Berger's offenses (though probably less damaging than either of those cases), and if Shelby will not resign, the Senate should remove him. If the Senate also fails in its duty, the people of Alabama have a duty to vote him out at the next election he stands for.


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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Spokesman

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Is it too much to ask that someone hire Mike Hendrix for spokesman at Homeland Security or the White House?


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Amen!! He'd be great!

Posted by: Sharon Ferguson on August 5, 2004 06:28 PM
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August 10, 2004

Coalitions

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The prospect of future "coalitions of the willing" in any meaningful sense are almost nil. The only powers in the world that can deploy significant forces anywhere in the world and support them indefinitely are the United States and the United Kingdom. Russia has enough troops and logistics assets, but no cash to sustain them in combat. China has a large body of troops, but insufficient logistics assets to support them outside except in SE Asia. France's capabilities are pretty much limited to the French Foreign Legion and maybe a couple of battallions if stretched, and then they have serious logistics issues. Germany has insufficient forces and insufficient logistics. Japan has constitutional restrictions that prevent sending force abroad. No one else has significant military forces in the first place.

Russia and China can hardly be counted on as members of any coalition on any significant issue, since US gains are somewhat to their detriment. France and Germany - well, let's just say that they aren't exactly willing. And now the United Kingdom is reducing its forces - to the point that it may become impossible for the British to deploy forces abroad larger than the French can deploy. (Hat tip: VodkaPundit) The current global situation, then, becomes one in which regional powers like Russia, China, Japan, Iran, France/Germany/Britain/Italy, Israel, S. Korea, India and Australia focus on their little areas, and only the United States has any ability to solve problems in the world at large.

I think that John Kerry and George Bush both need to be open and honest with the American people about this, because it is going to be one of the two foundational elements in foreign policy for the next couple of decades (the other being jihadi terrorism and the resultant wars). And in these wars, the US will stand alone in terms of main strength, with our allies contributing niche forces and minor combatant units.


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If America goes to war again against a poorly equipped nation for no apparent reason than it wants to then two things:

a] You'll be stark staring bonkers
b] You'll be on your own

Malcolm

Thoughts from over the Pond

Posted by: MFfromUK on August 13, 2004 01:15 PM

Given that some wars are entirely wars of choice. Take the invasion of Panama: Noriega was a bad actor, certainly, and running drugs into the US for a profit; he was also a tyrant. Nonetheless, we basically took him out purely for the drugs issue - not the best way to approach the issue in the first place, especially because I consider the "drug war" pretty stupid to begin with. (And hey, we were on our own.)

My point is that it does not matter what the threat is (and right now we have some very real existential threats to fight): we will still be mostly alone. We may have moral support from a great deal of countries (as we did in Afghanistan and Iran), and minor contributions of specialized troops or small units of line troops (as we did in Afghanistan and Iran), but anything resembling the amount of force that the UK put into Iraq will not be forthcoming in the future, should Britain cut her military so completely as is apparently to be done. In other words, even if we fight a war against a well-equipped nation (a regional power, such as Iran) and for manifest reasons (such as their development of nuclear weapons), we will be alone.

In fact, I suspect that for the next couple of decades, America will basically be standing mostly alone against the jihadis much as England stood mostly alone against Napoleon and later against the NAZIs. I'm OK with standing alone if need be, in response to an existential threat; I just want our politicians to stop pretending that we won't be standing mostly alone.

Posted by: Jeff on August 13, 2004 01:51 PM

Professional warfare just keeps getting more expensive. We have allocated somewhere around a quarter of a trillion dollars for iraq and afghanistan. Any chance it will be less than half a trillion dollars before we're through? To fight two of the poorest nations on the planet, one of them with years of sanctions.

If we were facing traditional armies in either case we could have just mopped them up. Their artillery might get one shot each before we took them out. Their tanks likewise. Some of their planes might have gotten off the ground; none of them would accomplish much. We are winners against armies. But our expenses fighting terrorists etc have been rather more than those against the iraqi army. The resistance can't win, they can only die to make it more expensive for us.

Say we were fighting somebody who wasn't as poor and not as poorly armed. Could we take switzerland? Given staging areas to attack from? Probably, but the US military would be years recovering. Could we take japan? They're mostly disarmed but I doubt we could do it without killing a whole lot of civilians. Thailand? Probably not. Cambodia? No. Vietnam? Not really. Brazil? Hell no. They'd *bleed* on us.

Nobody but us can afford to keep a military that can fight anywhere in the world. The reason is partly that weapons have gotten so cheap and so destructive that professional troops can't kill off poorly-trained suicide attackers well enough. And maybe it's partly that when you look at how much it costs to play an away game, there just aren't many countries that have anything to make it *worth* what it costs.

The US balance of trade is whacked. The days are numbered that the dollar will be the reserve currency. The chinese central bank is basicly financing our iraq invasion. What if they stop?

We might be on the way to being a regional power too. Except that our navy controls the bluewater oceans. Our B52s can bomb anywhere in the world but what good will that do us when we're a regional power?

The world might have to do without a world cop for awhile. I expect the world will get by one way or another.

Posted by: J Thomas on August 18, 2004 09:33 PM
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Posted by jeff at 12:00 AM | TrackBack

Andrew Olmsted

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Andrew Olmsted's blog is always interesting. Major Olmsted trains soldiers for combat deployments, and his military insights (such as this on the implications of recently-announced troop redeployments from Europe and Asia as regards deployability of forces) are always interesting. But it's not just his military commentary that is good. For example, a few of his recent posts include:


If you don't read beyond the top few blogs in terms of traffic, you are missing most of what makes the blogosphere great.


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The Right Size for the Army

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Francis Porretto comments on a FoxNews article that I saw last night, and decided not to comment on. Oh, well, such things are always subject to change.

I am on record as favoring a larger military, and I stand by that over the long term. However, I do understand the military's desire to first restructure, and then expand if it is still necessary: it is hard to do a major transformation during an expansion: ask many businesses which have tried and failed.

What I don't understand is why we are not building a parallel force, under DoD, for nation-building and pacification. This force could be specialized for occupation and counter guerilla-warfare tasks, reconstruction, civil administration and the keeping of civil order. As part of the civil administration, there should be gradual handovers of power to locals, starting at the local level and working upwards, in order to train the occupied country in civil governance, representative government, personal liberty, and the like. This force would be used for the time period between the end of major combat operations, and the end of military governance (in Iraq, this has already passed, though I'm not sure of the wisdom of the rapid handover of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government, without any significant intervening work on inculcating the right values for a democratic nation.) I think that this corresponds to Randy Barnett's concept of a "system admin force", but I haven't read more than excerpts of his work at this point, and could easily be wrong about that.

This kind of force can be stood up while the Army is reorganizing, and would be almost immediately useful. The only thing standing in the way is money, and that lacks only the political will to choose guns over butter while we're actively at war. So far, that political will has been lacking. Given Kerry's record as a Senator, I believe that his calls for expanding the Army are based on political opportunism alone: President Bush has resisted (at the request of the military) calls to expand the Army, so Kerry is suddenly in favor of it. I'll be happy if Kerry pushes Bush towards expansion, but I'm not going to change my voting intentions over it.


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Maps and Fences

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Little Green Footballs notes the latest tragic terrorist attack inside Israel. The attack was at Be'er Sheva, rather than in the Jerusalem are where most bus bombings have occurred. Looking at a tactical pilotage map of the area, a couple of things leap out.

First, this is well, well within the bounds of Israel proper, well inside the 1949 armistice line. How could such an attack possibly be against "settlers"?

Second, note the dotted line to the West around Khan Younis and Rafah. This is the Gaza Strip, and the whole area is walled off from Israel. Also note the dotted line to the NorthEast. This is the West Bank, and it is not yet walled off from Israel, though Israel is in the process of doing so. Again, the area around Jerusalem has already been walled off, but further South (in this area) that has not yet been completed. Does a more compelling argument on the need for the Israeli security wall exist, than the thought that an utterly innocent 3-year old boy would not be fighting for his life, if only the fence had already extended this far South?


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August 8, 2004

Election Projection

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OK, here are my guesses for the election. (Or, here is where I show how bad I am at predicting US elections - we'll decide after 11/2.)

The Republicans will gain 5-10 net seats in the House, mostly in Texas.

The Republicans will gain 2 net seats in the Senate.

George Bush will win the election with at least 52%, but certainly not more than 58%, of the popular vote, and will decisively win the electoral college, probably taking at least 360 electors.

When I have more time, I'll explain my reasoning for these projections.


Comments

Interesting. Without closely analyzing things, just using my gut, I've been more optimistic about the legislature and less about the executive.

As of now, I would say Republicans pick up 10-15 in the House, 3-4 in the Senate, while Bush wins with over 50% (which is higher than most are willing to give him), 51-52% my guess, Kerry about 45-46%. I think the electoral vote will be close. Right now I'd say 291-247; it may be even closer. But worst case I can see is 274-264 Bush.

Posted by: Brian on August 4, 2004 06:55 PM

The Wisconsin Senate race will be uncallable until sometime after the primary, which is something of a purity versus electability contest. All told I expect the state to show a much more conservative leaning in 2004 than it did in 2000 (unless the DNC buys a lot more votes this time).

Posted by: triticale on August 5, 2004 12:55 PM
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August 2, 2004

Sleight of Hand

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It is the job of the Democrat Party (and, apparently, the hobby of many Democrat partisans and doom-mongers among the press corps) to ensure that as much power as possible ends up in the hands of Democrats at any given time. (Seriously: the only reason that any political party exists, protests about "the good of the country" notwithstanding, is to maximize their power as a group.) As such, I would expect them to do anything and say anything if it would help them in that effort, and so naturally I expect the Democrats to trash Bush as much as possible, and to slip invalid criticisms in whenever possible on the off chance they'll stick. It's redirection: ignore the reality and watch this shiny thing. But I hate it when partisans assume we're all stupid.

President Bush was saying last month that the economy had "turned the corner," but the recovery he's counting on to help drive him to re-election Nov. 2 has hit some potholes lately.

In the past few weeks, job creation has stalled, oil prices have soared to record heights, and the overall economic recovery has slowed. Groups that track poverty and health insurance data say next week's annual Census Bureau figures are likely to show more Americans in poverty and without health insurance. [emphasis added]


Those numbers are for last year. If the economy has "turned the corner" from the recession and thus is improving (which recovery the Democrat partisans in and out of the MSM have been claiming didn't exist, but now have to acknowledge in order to claim that the recovery is over), then one would assume that things were bad last year, so that there was something to improve upon.

So, either the reporter (and the organizations making these claims) are utterly pig-ignorant and dumb as rocks, or they think we are. Given the rest of this hit piece, I'm guessing they think we're stupid.


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They assume people are unobservant. I had heard about the reports, but not taken a close look at it yet. I had missed the date myself.

Score one more for the oberservant readers of the blogosphere!

Posted by: Mark L on August 29, 2004 10:18 AM

Neither stupid nor arrogant. Lazy. They just used the first set of numbers that came to hand.

Posted by: Dave Schuler on August 29, 2004 03:31 PM
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