August 31, 2004

Best of the Lot

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

Posted by Jeff at 05:18 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

The Case Against College

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

Posted by Jeff at 05:12 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Nyet

No way can this be Constitutional.

Posted by Jeff at 04:20 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Maps and Fences

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?

Posted by Jeff at 10:29 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

August 30, 2004

The Right Size for the Army

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.

Posted by Jeff at 10:39 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

My Electoral College Prediction

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.

Posted by Jeff at 12:44 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (9)

August 29, 2004

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

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.

Posted by Jeff at 10:26 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

MT 3.1

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:

  • better anti-spam capabilities, such as the ability to delete a comment and block by IP at the same time, and the ability to ban comments based on keywords, poster email addresses and the like
  • a better interface - particularly for managing comments and trackbacks without having to go into individual posts (assuming they've dropped off the last five)
  • some kind of statistical reporting (such as how many comments have been posted by a given user and how many times a given post has been shown, which would make "most popular post" lists easy)
  • blogrolling tools, including the ability to keep track of recently-updated blogs
  • a "who links to me" feature, using the integration with Google and possibly integrating with Technorati and/or the ecosystem as well

Posted by Jeff at 09:27 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Tax Cut Effect

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".

Posted by Jeff at 08:34 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Sleight of Hand

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.

Posted by Jeff at 02:22 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

August 28, 2004

The Silence of the LAN

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.

Posted by Jeff at 02:30 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

August 20, 2004

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

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.

Posted by Jeff at 10:36 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (3)

Andrew Olmsted

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:

  • a pointer to an interesting commentary on how "gouging" is actually the free market in action, and how it ensures that goods get to where they are needed when they are needed
  • a review of Unfit for Command, the SwiftBoat Vets for Truth's indictment of John Kerry's Viet Nam war and after-war activities
  • a commentary on the hidden costs of government
  • a well-deserved excoriation of Kevin Drum's hypocrisy

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

Posted by Jeff at 10:57 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

WTF?

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.)

Posted by Jeff at 12:30 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (6)

August 19, 2004

How Odd

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.

Posted by Jeff at 11:01 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

The "Unbiased" Media

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.

Posted by Jeff at 10:51 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Splitting Hairs, and Texans

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.

Posted by Jeff at 10:41 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Goodbye, Illinois

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).

Posted by Jeff at 04:21 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Self Defense

It seems to me that if (in the UK) defending your family gets you arrested, eventually people will take matters into their own hands. It is human nature to defend yourself and your family against attack, and not only are governments unable to be everywhere at once to provide such a defense, they are unwilling to allow for the exceptions where they don't get there in time. Better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6 - and eventually people will start just killing attackers and disposing of the bodies. After all, why would police suspect you when you didn't know the attacker in any way, and were at home at the time?

The police (in Britain in particular) need to wake up to the fact that they are there to aide citizens in their defense of themselves and properties, not to prevent that defense.

Posted by Jeff at 04:07 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Cronkite Fails to Leave Graciously

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

Posted by Jeff at 03:45 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Nothing Serious...

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!

Posted by Jeff at 03:17 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

August 16, 2004

Winning or Not Losing

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?

Posted by Jeff at 10:54 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

What I Do (Almost)

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.

Posted by Jeff at 04:00 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

August 13, 2004

John Kerry is a Fool

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.)

Posted by Jeff at 05:03 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Coalitions

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.

Posted by Jeff at 10:30 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (3)

August 12, 2004

Bad Experiences

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.

Posted by Jeff at 11:47 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

August 11, 2004

What Would You Do?

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:

  • Iran is not only a theocracy, it is also the country which turned the jihadi mindset of paranoia, xenophobia, and hatred from the madness of a small number of intellectuals into State policy.
  • Iran's major enemies are Israel (for religious reasons alone) and the United States (which opposes Iran's plan to restore the caliphate under Iranian auspices. Israel is not an active threat against Iran as long as Iran doesn't make it so, but Iran is incapable of not making it so. Primarily, this is because the destruction of Israel by Iran would so raise its prestige in the Muslim world that it would make almost inevitible that Iran would succeed in uniting the Muslim world under it's rulership. The United States has since 9/11 been actively and irrevocably an enemy of Iran's current government, though conveniently (for Iran) many Americans don't realize that.
  • Iran is conventionally strong enough to defend itself against invasion from all likely enemies except for the United States. Israel is stronger than Iran, but so far away that Israel could not attempt to occupy Iran in any meaningful way (for both logistics and manpower reasons). Russia is not capable of pacifying Afghanistan or Chechnya, and Iran would be much harder. China is too far away to sustain an invasion, given their poor logistics, though unlike Israel they have the manpower to sustain the occupation. In other words, Iran is the regional power in the Middle East.
  • But...Iran has no hope of defending against the United States. While it would take longer for the US to take out Iran than Iraq, and while it would take more American forces, it is well within the current US capability to defeat and occupy Iran. It's also likely, given the Westernization, education and discontent current in Iran, that the occupation of Iran would be short and easily successful - much more so than in Iraq.
  • Such a move would be disastrous, because it would be the end of the restoration of the Caliphate under Iranian auspices.
  • It would also be another disastrous blow to the restoration of the Caliphate under al Qaeda and Wahabbi auspices, because it would force the jihadis to fight actively across the entire sweep from Iraq to Afghanistan. And in an active fight, the jihadis tend to die in large numbers and to little practical effect (with the exception of fawning adulation from Reuters, et al). As a result, it is in al Qaeda's and Saudi Arabia's interest to prevent Iran from being invaded by the US and occupied. This makes them useful allies.
  • There is one example of a country which has managed to utterly prevent a US invasion: North Korea. It has done so by having a rudimentary nuclear capability - a few weapons - and a limited delivery mechanism.
  • Building nuclear facilities aboveground makes them liable to destruction by US or Israeli air strikes, which have few negative consequences for either nation. As a result, all critical nuclear facilities must be under ground - deep under ground so that the US earth penetrating bombs cannot reach them.

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:

  • There is the situation with Iran, described above. In addition, Iran has been the benefactor for many years of Hizb'allah, one of the major terror threats against Israel.
  • But Iran is hardly alone. Egypt is nominally at peace with Israel, and will likely remain so as long as it is convinced that it would be destroyed if it attacked Israel, and not likely a moment longer. The peace with Jordan is more likely to last, because Jordan needs Israel's good will more than it needs to be seen as standing up to Israel, at least until and unless the Palestinians flood into Jordan, at which time peace is no longer assured. Pretty much every other Arab state (not all, but almost all) are actively belligerent against Israel and would attack at a moment's notice if they thought they could win. In the meantime, they are using terrorism and the Palestinian Authority to keep Israel as off-balance as possible.
  • 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. It's likely that the method of employment would be to give a weapon to a terrorist group, unless the enemy were to have many nuclear weapons, so that he could be insured of destroying Israel utterly even at the cost of themselves being utterly destroyed.
  • Given that the jihadis yearn for death, a suicidal attack (not suicide of the bombers, necessarily, but of the whole country that undertook the attack) is hardly unlikley should a Muslim country obtain nuclear weapons.
  • Israel itself has a large nuclear arsenal (likely 200-300 warheads) and robust delivery mechanisms of multiple kinds.
  • The enemy could not destroy Israel without nuclear weapons, though Israel would suffer heavily in any large-scale conventional war.
  • The United States can only be fitfully counted on to support Israel, and most other countries can be reliably counted on to oppose Israel at every turn.

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.

Posted by Jeff at 03:52 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (8)

August 10, 2004

A Perfect Analysis

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.

Posted by Jeff at 11:51 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Winning the Terror Wars

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:

  • The enemy is united by only one thing: the ideology of jihad. The key features of this ideology include attacking kufr (that's you and me) wherever you find them and by whatever means necessary, but most particularly in countries which are or once were Muslim and most importantly by killing us or forcing us to submit; dhimmitude (subjugation of servile non-Muslims); universal implementation of shari'a, a Koranic code of justice and prescriptions and proscriptions for living that is deeply opposed to every value and right held by any liberal society; "cleansing" the ummah (think of this the way Catholics mean "Church") of "insufficiently-Muslim" Muslims; restoral of the caliphate (theocratic government of the Arabs and Muslims as a whole covering all of the territory ever under Muslim domination [Sorry, Spain, nice try and all.]); and extension of the caliphate to the entire world.
  • In the Arab/Muslim world, a large number of people are fellow-travellers with the jihadis, even when they do not necessarily agree with the jihadis. Partly, the reasons are cultural, and partly they are religious. Mostly, though, they seem to grow out of the deep sense of failure and shame within the Arab world, channeled by their tyrannical governments into xenophobia and the fetishization of death and hatred. As a result, the jihadis have considerable freedom of movement and action within Muslim populations everywhere in the world (yes, including in the US).
  • The Western ideology owes most of its substance the Enlightenment liberalism of Rousseau (particularly in Europe) and Smith, Hobbes and Locke (particularly in the US). These values include equality of all (including law-makers and law-enforcers) before the law, freedom from arbitrary imprisonment, and the right to be tried by a jury of one's peers; the rule of law rather than the use of force to settle disputes; limited and representative government; mostly-free markets and trade; the right of individuals to life, liberty and property; freedom of speech, religion and the press; equality of people regardless of race, religion, creed, color, gender, parentage, or opinion; acceptance of the value of change; the value of prosperity and the independence it brings; and a rational scientific worldview (even amongst the very religious).
  • In the West, we have failed over the last hundred years to bequeath the legacy of Western civilization and the Enlightenment to our children, because many in the West no longer agree with many of the tenets of that ideology and legacy. We have ceased teaching Western culture and values in government-controlled educational institutions; we have ceased passing these values on to our children; we have countenanced the outright denigration of our culture and our countries in comparison to others; we have sought world government while ignoring self discipline. In large part, we surrendered not our ideology, but our control of its presentation and interpretation to those among us most interested in overthrowing that ideology and replacing it with Marxism or some similarly-utopian ideal.
  • Many of the people in the West who are most opposed to the values of the West are also in active or tacit league with our enemies abroad. In most cases, this comes not from a respect for the culture and values of the enemy, but from self-loathing and bitter recriminations over the imperfections (however minor in comparison) of the West. The primary effect of this (fairly large) coterie (particularly in Europe) is to hinder our efforts at self-defense and at spreading our liberal values to our enemy. In addition, socialism has invested us with a deeply selfish trend which causes many otherwise well-meaning people to oppose any efforts which might reduce government's largess on behalf of themselves or their pet causes. This imposes constraints of both material and will on the ability of the West to defend itself aggressively abroad and even at home.


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.

Posted by Jeff at 04:01 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (11)

August 09, 2004

John Kerry's Political Epitaph

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.

Posted by Jeff at 11:41 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

"Hello," He Lied

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.

Posted by Jeff at 12:17 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

August 05, 2004

How to be a New Blogger

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.

Posted by Jeff at 06:19 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (3)

Spokesman

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

Posted by Jeff at 11:37 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

The Honorable Thing to Do...

...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.

Posted by Jeff at 11:22 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

August 04, 2004

Pesky Questions

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.

Posted by Jeff at 09:35 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

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

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.

Posted by Jeff at 02:41 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

Blood From a Stone

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.

Posted by Jeff at 12:20 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

Election Projection

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.

Posted by Jeff at 08:03 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

August 03, 2004

The Moral Bankruptcy of the Left

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

Posted by Jeff at 08:26 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (2)

Expat Yank Blows a Gasket

I mean that title in a good way.

Posted by Jeff at 11:53 AM | Link Cosmos | Comments (0)

August 02, 2004

Kerry's Foreign Policy

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.

Posted by Jeff at 07:59 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)

Trust Me

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 my policy differ from that of my predecessor?
  • What are the problems with my predecessor's policy?
  • What parts of my predecessor's policy are improved on in my policy?
  • How does my policy ensure that it does not result in worse outcomes than my predecessor's policy in other areas?

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.

Posted by Jeff at 05:39 PM | Link Cosmos | Comments (1)