Friday, April 29, 2011

A few parables with easy lessons in basic economics and classical liberty that modern liberals lose sight of

1. Scarcity is a law of nature, and all humans must consume scarce resources to survive.

Imagine a person stranded on a island. Call him Adam. Adam needs to consume to live. He eats by fishing or gathering. Maybe he goes Robinson Crusoe and captures some wild boar, and starts raising them. He builds a shelter, drinks water for a spring that he's diverted toward his shelter, burns wood for heat if needed. But everything he consumes, he alone must produce or obtain. If he doesn't produce something himself, he can't consume it. For him, equal balance between consumption and production is not just an ideal, it's a fact of life, as much as gravity, and the changing of the seasons, and even potential injury, possible sickness, and eventual death.

2. Trade, Charity, and Theft: for an individual to consume scarce resources, he must produce them himself, or trade, beg or steal from another.

Now say there are two people on the island, Adam and Brett. Suddenly, Adam has the potential to consume something that he didn't produce, because Brett produced it. Cool! So how does Adam get what Brett produced? He has a few options. First, he could beg for it. "Hey, Brett, c'mon man, I didn't catch any fish today. Can't you spare one of yours?" Second, he could trade for it. "Hey Brett, I didn't catch any fish, but I did pick a bunch of mangoes. Wanna trade?" Or he could steal it. It's obvious which option is morally acceptable, which is morally salutatory, and which one is morally condemnable.

It is also important to understand that even though Adam no longer needs to rely solely on his own production, that he still can't consume something that he or someone else did not first obtain or produce. Adam will either: 1. consume or save value equal to his production by trading with Brett; 2. consume value greater than the value of his production by stealing or receiving gifts from Brett; or 3. consume less than the value of his production by donating to or being the victim of Brett. But, again, like gravity, the equilibrium between aggregate consumption or savings on the one hand, and aggregate production on the other is a law of nature, a fact of life. Brett and Adam cannot agree to a policy to ensure that they are both prosperous. That would be like legislating that pi equals 3, or like trying to repeal thunderstorms. Adam and Brett collectively can only consume what they collectively produce or obtain.

Now add a third person, Charlie. The basic law of nature still applies. The things that Charlie produces or obtains are accessible to Adam and Brett only through the same three options: trade, charity, and theft. To pretend otherwise is to pretend that gravity doesn't exist.

3. When authorities forcible take an individual’s production against his will, it’s still stealing

Now let's say Adam is stronger than Brett, who is stronger than Charlie, and that Adam starts stealing from Brett through brute force. Brett has at least two options. He can enlist Charlie's aid and present a united front against Adam. Alternatively, he could subordinate himself to Adam, and in turn oppress Charlie.

Perhaps Adam is so powerful that he declares himself King of the whole island. He appoints Brett as his noble, and allows Brett to enslave or enserf Charlie. Now Charlie is doing all the work, under Brett’s supervision, for the benefit mostly of Adam. Being citizens of a liberal democracy, we easily grasp that Adam, although he calls himself the “government,” is really nothing more than a thief. There is nothing special about his status as the “government” that excuses his theft. He produces nothing and yet lives like, well, a king. Adam’s moral position is not improved by the fact that he allows Brett to retain a portion of the production that he confiscates from Charlie as a “rent”. That’s why today, economists define “rent seeking” as “attempts to derive economic rent by manipulating the social/political environment in which economic activities occur. An example of rent-seeking is the limitation of access to skilled occupations imposed by medieval guilds.”

Note also that the aggregate production of this rent-seeking society has now declined, because Adam and Brett are not producing anything. Thus, rent-seeking behavior is usually considered to be a hindrance to the economy. (Id.)

4. Free trade, protection of private property, and enforcement of contracts are the best ways to incentivize production; and they set people free to boot.

Now let’s assume that Adam, Brett, and Charlie are about equal in strength, or all have access to weapons that mitigate their physical differences, and also agree to live in a civil society in which they will not enslave each other, nor steal from each other. Furthermore, they divide the island into three parts, which they all agree are of equal value (but not necessarily equal size), and each one of them takes ownership of one of the parts. They trade with each other, and sometimes gift things to each other. Each produces what he wants, or what the others will trade for. Say Adam gets really good at growing mangoes, and Brett’s part of the island is just perfect for raising pigs, and Charlie’s part has a bay with the most tasty fish. They live free, and they live as prosperously as their collective production and ingenuity allows.

One day, Charlie wanted some mangoes, but hadn’t yet caught any fish, even though he planned to go fishing the next day. So he asked Adam for some mangoes, and promised to give him a fish on the next day. Adam agreed. The next day, Charlie went fishing and caught several fish, but ate them all himself. When Adam arrived to collect his fish, he was outraged. “I thought we were trading, but really, you were stealing,” he said. “I will never trade with you again!”

Adam told Brett what happened, and Adam and Brett approached Charlie. Brett said, “You broke your promise to trade with Adam, so how do I know you will honor the promises you have made to me? I will no longer trade with you, unless you give to Adam a fish as you promised.” Charlie replied, “but I have no more fish today.” Adam said, “then go fishing tomorrow and give to Charlie a fish tomorrow.”

Charlie realized the error of his ways, and decided he still wanted to trade with Adam and Brett. So he went fishing the next day, and gave Adam a fish, plus another fish as a gift to make up for the bad feelings.

Furthermore, the three decided it was useful that when two of them had a dispute, to refer it to the third person to decide it fairly and in accordance with the rules that had been agreed-to previously.

5. When the majority decides to take an individual’s property against his will, the majority is engaging in a facially morally questionable act that must be justified if it is to taken at all.

Nevertheless, Charlie continued to a have a little anti-social streak in him. One day, while passing near Adam’s property, he saw some perfectly ripe mangoes hanging from the trees. He crossed onto Adam’s property and stole some mangoes. Adam, standing some distance away, saw him. Adam, per the island’s agreement, brought his grievance to Brett. Adam and Brett then approached Charlie.

Brett said “you should give the mangoes back.” Adam protested, “but I’ve already eaten them.” Brett then asked Adam, “how many fish does Charlie usually give you for a mango, and how many mangoes did he take?” Adams said, “usually I ask for one fish for two mangoes, and Charlie took four mangoes.” Brett thus declared: “Charlie, you must give to Adam two fish.”

Now Charlie had just been fishing that day, and his net was full of fish, but Charlie averred: “I do not agree with your judgment, I will not give Adam any fish, so if you take my fish, you will therefore be stealing from me.”

Brett and Adam conferred for a moment, and then Brett said: “yes, taking your fish against your will is morally questionable. But you had also agreed to abide my rulings when you had a dispute with Adam. And I find that you have also stolen from Adam. So if you do not agree to abide my ruling, in this case, we find that the wrong of taking from you against your will is justified by your prior wrongful actions.” Outnumbered, Charlie could not prevent Adam and Brett from taking two of his fish against his will, and so they did.

Charlie, steaming, then went onto Brett’s property and stole a pig from Brett. Brett took his grievance against Charlie to Adam. Adam said to Charlie, “we all agreed to live in a society in which we no longer steal from each other. We would only trade with or receive gifts from others. If you do not honor this agreement, we can no longer agree to allow you to be in our society. We will banish you from the island.” Charlie considered this, and again realized the error of his ways, so stopped stealing (we hope).

6. People are mortal; extending and improving an individual’s life has costs; and forcibly imposing those costs on other citizens is morally murky.

One day, an old sea trunk washes up on Adam’s beach. In it, are some medical instruments, and a few medical text books. Adam looks through the text books, and realizes that they are generally way over his head. He tells Charlie and Brett about the trunk, and they inspect the books. They both think that if they took some time to study the books and practice with them, they might be able to learn some useful things. Charlie, however, is less interested in investing the time to do so. He works hard fishing, and likes to spend his free time surfing. Brett, while he is also busy raising his pigs, thinks it would be interesting to study the books in his free time, so he says that he wants the books. Adam claims they’re his. Charlie agrees that since the books washed up on Adam’s beach, they are Adam’s, and if Brett wants them, he’ll have to trade for them. Adam and Brett subsequently reach a deal.

After a while, Brett has learned some useful things. He has figured out how to dress wounds, and distill an antiseptic from some of the local flora. One time, he cuts himself, and treats the wound himself.

Some time later, Charlie gets a bad gash on his shin while surfing. He visits Brett, who is busy tending his pigs, and asks if Charlie has learned anything from books that will help him. Brett says that he has, and tells Charlie that he can rent the book for awhile for a couple of fish. Charlie looks at him, and says “can’t you just help me?”

Brett responds, “well, I could, but right now, I’m busy tending to my pigs. Also, I spent a lot of time studying the book and learning how to dress wounds and make antiseptics. You said you weren’t interested in doing that, because you wanted more leisure time. Don’t forget that it was your ruling that the book was property, and so it, and the information in it, needed to be traded for. And, you know, things aren’t really the best between us since you stole one of my pigs. Also, your fish nets are usually always full. So I’m not sure why I should just do something that you could have done yourself. Also, I’ve run out of my stock of antiseptic, so I’d have to collect more flowers to make more.”

Charlie thinks for a moment, and says, “o.k. we’ll trade. I’ll go collect the flowers, and then watch your pigs while you distill the antiseptic. And I’ll give you five fish for your trouble.”

“Seven fish,” says Brett

“Six and no more.”


* * *

Some time later, Adam cuts his hand tending his mango trees. He visits Brett and asks for his help. He asks Adam to treat him for free, because he was never able to understand the text books in the first place, and his mango groves haven’t fully recovered after a hurricane that passed through fairly recently.

Brett responds, “I don’t know Adam, I’m really busy right now. I spent a lot of time learning this stuff, and distilling the antiseptic. And you sold me the books fair-and-square, so I don’t know if I want to take the time to help you for free. I know your mango groves took a hit a while ago, and Charlie and I were very happy to help you through a rough spot there with some gifts. But it looks like they’re coming back, now. I think you can afford to trade me some mangoes.” Adam, upset, calls Brett “selfish” and says he’s taking the matter up with Charlie.

The three meet to settle the dispute. Charlie tells Adam, “Adam, as you and Brett have taught me, we agreed that we are only to trade with each other, or accept gifts, and never steal. On what basis can I tell Brett to treat you?”

Adam avers, “You should tell Brett to treat my wound as a gift. After all, I can’t do this myself. It’s not my fault that I couldn’t understand the text books. And my mango groves have still not fully re-grown from the hurricane. Brett is just selfish if he wants me to give him mangoes to treat my wounds. Now, he’s just trying to steal my mangoes, just like you used to do, and which you realize was wrong. I’m hurt, and he has no sympathy for me.”

Charlie responds, “Well, it’s not true that Brett is trying to steal your mangoes. I did, and I paid the price. But Brett is simply offering a trade. It is true, however, that your inability to understand the book is not your fault. On the other hand, there is no ‘fault’ in Brett for being able to understand the book, and having taken the time to study it, and learn from it. Still, on balance, I agree that he should treat you for free, because that would be a very nice thing for him to do. Brett, my ruling is that you must treat Charlie for free, as a gift.”

Brett retorts, “Wait a second. You can’t force me to give someone a gift against my will, because then it’s not a gift. Gifts are things of mine that I decide to give to someone else for free, not things of mine that you decide I should give to someone for free. Furthermore, the only reason it’s even possible for me to treat Charlie as a gift is because I took the time to learn this stuff. So, what are you going to do if I refuse to treat him for free? Beat me until I do? That would simply be enslavement, which is another thing we had decided not to do to one another when we established our civil society.”

Charlie thinks for a moment and says, “Yes it’s true we agreed not to enslave each other, and it’s true that I was not willing to study the medical books, even though I could have. So I will not enslave you. We can, however, take your pigs as a fine unless you treat him.”

Brett retorts, “well, that’s just stealing! When Adam and I took your fish against your will, it was because you had stolen from Adam. That was why we were justified in taking something of yours against your will. But I have never stolen from Adam, so on what basis do you take from me against my will? Also taking my pigs is not going to get Adam treated. Why can’t Adam just trade for my services, the way he usually trades for everything else?”

At this point, Adam jumps in, “I know! Charlie, your fish nets are almost always full. Why don’t you just give Brett some of your fish as a trade to treat me. Or just give me some of your fish as a gift so that I can trade them with Brett, instead of my mangoes. Either way, there will be a trade and a gift. We’ll be doubly good.”

“That sounds like a good idea to me,” says Brett.

“Hold on,” says Charlie, taken aback, “how did this come back on me? Why do I have to give Adam a gift?”

Adam says, “I don’t know, but if you don’t agree to give me some fish to trade with Brett, then I’ll take up the dispute with Brett, who will surely side with me, knowing that he’s going to get the fish in the end.”

“Yeah,” Brett joins in, “and if you don’t agree to trade me fish to treat Adam, then I’ll take the dispute up with Adam, who will surely side with me, because then he’ll get treated for free.”

“Well that’s just stealing!” shouts Charlie.

“Maybe it’s just that you’re the one who’s really the selfish one,” says Brett.

“Me?” asks Charlie. “C’mon, Adam’s the one who’s going around asking to get stuff for free, and raising disputes with everyone who doesn’t give it to him.”

“That’s true,” says Brett. “Maybe he is the selfish one.”

“Dang it,” says Adam, “now my head and my hand hurt.”

7. Providing public goods and services requires confiscating citizens’ production against their will, raising a moral problem.

Coming soon!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Read her lips: "no new scandals!"

Yeah, right:

Clinton, speaking on WJLA Channel 7 in Washington and, also promised there would be no new scandals involving her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

An Alternate History

When the President does not complete his four-year term, because of death, resignation, impeachment, etc., his successor completes his four-year term and then another election is held. But this may not be the result dictated by the Constitution. Article 2 reads:

The Executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice-President chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:

. . . .

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President.
The last part is ambiguous, and was controversial the first time a President died in office. As wiki explains:

When William Henry Harrison died in office, a debate arose as to whether or not the Vice President actually becomes President, or if he would just inherit the powers, thus becoming an Acting President. Harrison's Vice President, John Tyler, believed that he had the right to become President. However, many Senators argued that he only had the right to assume the powers of the presidency long enough to call for a new election. Because the wording of the clause is so vague, it was impossible for either side to prove their point. Tyler ended up taking the Oath of Office and became President, setting a precedent that would be followed until the ratification of the Twenty-fifth Amendment.

. . . .

The Twenty-fifth Amendment explicitly states that when the Presidency is vacant, then the Vice President becomes President. This provision applied at the time Gerald Ford succeeded to the Presidency.

Technically, both Tyler and his opponents could be correct. Tyler could have been "Acting President" for the remainder of Harrison's term. Hence, Tyler was not entitled to hold the office past the end of Harrison's term.

Further, here's what the 25th Amendment says:

In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.
So if Ford clearly became "President" and not "Acting President," wasn't he then entitled to "hold his Office during the Term of four Years," as provided in the un-amended portion of Article 2? That is, he should he have had four years in office, and not just three and change?

The answer may be that Article 2 uses the phrase "the Term of four Years" instead of "a Term of four Years". The use of the definite article indicates that a Presidential term is four years long, no matter what happens to the sitting President, and thus an election is held every four years no matter what.

But I think the other interpretation might make for a good alternative history story:

In the midst of the 2000 Florida re-count controversy and while Bush v. Gore is pending at the Supreme Court, Bill Clinton resigns, making Al Gore President. Gore then argues before the Supreme Court that Bush's case is moot, as Gore is entitled to serve for four years from the date Clinton resigned.

Gore wins in the Supreme Court, because Scalia grudgingly accepts his constructionist arguments, siding with the result-driven liberals. (Oddly, Thomas doesn't go along, but Gore still wins, rather than losing, 5-4.)

Then, the Republican-controlled House immediately passes articles of impeachment. But Gore cuts a deal with Senate. He realizes that the Senate has to ratify his appointment to the now-vacant VP slot. So, in return for a not-guilty verdict, he appoints Bush, not Lieberman, as Veep. The Senate goes along, as does Bush, and for the first time since the early days of the Republic, the Pres and the Veep are from different parties.

Meanwhile, right and good people across the nation are outraged. There are protests and counter-protests, some of which turn violent, in many battleground states. VP Bush calls for calm from his supporters, which helps. There is still then a push to amend the constitution to clarify that there should be an election every four years no matter what happens to the elected President. The proposal doesn't gain much traction, however, because most people concede that Gore won the popular vote, anyway, and a "bi-partisan" executive makes people think a fair outcome was achieved. (Not to mention the novelty of it.) Then, the events of 9/11 further distract the nation from electoral politics.

Gore still decides to invade Iraq (why wouldn't he?), but it's far less controversial, because it's o.k. when Democrats wage war. Coming into the '04 elections (which is now to occur in October, because Gore's term started in December '00, not Jan. '01), Gore and Bush run as a unified ticket, and win handily versus a field of "new party" candidates and challengers from both established parties.

Approaching the '08 elections, Gore returns the favor. He announces in late '07 that there will be no need for elections, as he intends to resign on the last day of his second four-year term and make Bush President.

In response, there is a revised push by a new party, lead primarily by Sen. Obama and Gov. Huckabee (and maybe Sen. McCain) to pass a constitutional amendment to require elections every four years. This takes too long, though, and when December '08 comes, Gore resigns and Bush becomes president.

Bush is then in a position to appoint his VP and apparant successor, subject to Senate confirmation. Suddenly, the VP confirmation fight becomes the most important political drama in the country. Facing a Democratic Congress, Bush appoints (guess who) Sen. Hillary Clinton from New York.

So later this year, we have Pres. Bush starting his first term with HRC as his Veep. The majority of the American people are more-or-less content with the transfer of power. They view the new Obama-Huck party as bunch of demagogic upstarts rocking the boat for a principled, but amorphous and impractical reason. The Obama-Hucksters make arguments about how hypocritical it is to demand elections overseas (in Iraq, etc.), while having our President be appointed. Rationally apathetic voters counter that there are still elections here--it's just that the Senate elections are now what really matter, because that's who gets to appoint the next President. Besides, with the existence of the electoral college, the President was never directly elected anyway. Why not let the Senate serve in that role? At least it's more transparent that way.

The Bush-Clinton team continues to prosecute the war in Iraq and elsewhere. Perhaps they even go to war in Iran. Further, they propose and succeed in passing a constitutional amendment that more or less enshrines the new paradigm of the Veep becoming the President at the end of a eight-year term, absent a defeat in a midterm (i.e. fourth year) "ratification" election, in which the incumbents get to run unopposed. The American people hardly notice the erosion of the democratic principles.

Friday, January 04, 2008

It might come down to pure identity politics

With Obama and Huckabee taking the Iowa primaries, the specter of the general election being a showdown between those two candidates becomes more real. If that happens, then the election essentially becomes about identity politics. Obama and Huckabee are not very far apart on foreign policy issues and most state welfare issues. They are both pro-big government and favor an appeasement, neo-isolationist foreign policy. Both would risk having their presidency turn out like Carter's.

The only practical difference, therefore, is that one candidate has cast himself as an "African-American" while the other cast himself as an "Evangelical Christian." In essence, they both willingly play identity politics, but pander to different identities. Mind you, however, that Obama casting himself as "African-American" despite his mixed heritage is not a bid to capture the Black vote. The Black vote is already secured, and thus not relevant, as that block will vote for the Democractic candidate no matter who it is.

Rather, the upshot of an Obama v. Huckabee election would be to ask white voters whether they more accept one of two competing but equally invidious and yet unspoken propositions. On the one hand, Obama asks white voters to accept "that it is time for a Black President." That is, white voters are tacitly told that they must either vote for Obama or be a racist. On the other hand, Huckabee asks white voters to "stand up for the traditions that make America strong." That is he tacitly tells white voters that they must vote for him or vote against American nationalism. Frankly, this false dichotomy disgusts me.

Further, such a match-up has the potential to destroy the GOP. There are not enough evangelical voters to overcome the masses of white voters who are willing to accept that despite their personal belief that "they aren't racist," America still suffers from "institutional racism;" and that the only way to undo that forever is to elect as President a person that can at least pass as "Black," regardless of what his policies are.

I want this contest to be about the proper size, scope and role of the Federal Government. I want a candidate that says that the Federal Government should be limited, focused primarily on our security interests here and abroad, and dedicated to keeping taxes to a minimum. Instead, I'm going to be forced to chose between two people that think that the Federal Bureaucracy should be larger than it is now; that America needs to retreat from the world and ask its forgiveness (for any number of imagined sins); and that the only way to rescue me from almost certain poverty, illness and decrepitude is to ask my fellow citizens to pay for my healthcare and retirement through taxes. The only question that would remain, then, is whether I want to be a racist or un-American, and I resent our political class forcing me into that false choice, while offering me policies that I can't stand.

See also: Powerline: The Real Loser Last Night

UPDATE: Some say I'm over-reacting.
Others just seem to agree.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Another political quiz

It tells me I'm conservative, with a healthy streak of libertarianism. Sounds about right:

What is your political ideology?
Your Result: Conservative

This quiz has categorised you as a Conservative. You believe in a limited/minimal role in the government to solve social problems, and instead believe economic growth is paramount. It is possible you may identify with the "religious right" as well.

Fascist/Radical Right
Social Democrat
Communist/Radical Left
What is your political ideology?
Make Your Own Quiz

The toughest question for me was the one regarding evolution v. creationism. I dispute the premise of it. I don't think that the U.S. "as a whole" is hostile to evolution. I think the U.S. tolerates different views on the matter, and I think a plurality of Americans would recognize that science and religion address fundamentally different issues. The former addresses the mechanics of the universe, while the latter addresses the ultimate creation and purpose of the universe.

(Yes, I know Genesis comes awfully close to discussing the mechanics of creation, but most of that has to do with time; and time is something that physicists concede is fluid, especially when studying the earliest stages of the Universe that science can conceive of--the hypothetical "Big Bang." The point, however, is that while science might describe the physical mechanism by which the observable matter in the universe converted from the initial energy released in the Big Bang, science does not address the purpose of a Universe in which a Big Bang that ultimately leads to sentient life capable of studying the Big Bang, can occur. The atheistic scientist's only answer is either to assume that there is no purpose; or to say that the question of a purpose is unimportant, because it can't be addressed with the scientific method. Talk about solipsistic circularity!)

Ultimately, I think the fact that large numbers of Americans adopt a creationist view is mostly indicative of the religious liberty available here, which is not available in say, Europe, because of social and legal forces. Thus I chose the first response, which was "Because the United States, remains, the only Western nation that is fighting to preserve traditional morals, which is undermined by evolution. The people of Europe & Canada have been brainwashed by secular socialists." But this response is stated more starkly than I would put it.

Another tough one was the one on affirmative action, but it was hard for a different reason. Here, I had trouble picking which of two response I agreed with more. Consider:
- It is does more harm than good, because it teaches minorities to rely on their colour/ethnicity to gain a job/admission to college
- It is harmful, because it causes people to see others in terms of groups rather than individuals.
Both are more or less true. The second response, however, indicates that affirmative action is inherently harmful practice, while the first one indicates that it is only harmful when balanced against its potential benefits. I chose the first one ultimately, only because I decided that there could be some hypothetical benefit that has so far eluded me. I guess that means I'm just fence-sitter, though, and not decisive...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ultimate 2008 Presidential Candidate Matcher Result

It says I'm a McCainiac!?

Ultimate 2008 Presidential Candidate Matcher
Your Result: John McCain

John McCain would continue Bush's foreign policy with little change, as he supports the war in Iraq and the larger war on terrorism. However, he is opposed to the use of torture. McCain is conservative on social issues, opposing civil unions for gays and abortion rights. He believes we must address the issue of global warming, and favors a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Mitt Romney
Rudy Guiliani
Ron Paul
John Edwards
Barack Obama
Hillary Clinton
Dennis Kucinich
Ultimate 2008 Presidential Candidate Matcher
Take More Quizzes

This clearly can't be correct, as I am still not over his stances on immigration amnesty, McCain-Feingold, etc. I would have thought that of the four Republicans on the list, I would come out closer to Guiliani, but I guess I hedged to close to the conservative line on social issues for that. But why didn't they include Fred as a possibility?

Also, check out Mark Steyn's latest column for a discussion of the general problems with the GOP field. Why did he also fail to consider Thompson? Is he so far back that he's now irrelevant?

Anyway, go take the quiz yourselves, and see what it says...


Well, I changed one response (on Civil Unions), and it came out in favor of Guiliani:

Ultimate 2008 Presidential Candidate Matcher
Your Result: Rudy Guiliani

The former New York City mayor emphasizes his tough foreign policy stance. His primary issue is national security, and would continue to pursue Bush's war on terrorism. Guiliani is liberal on social issues, favoring civil unions for gays and abortion rights. He is more conservative on tax policy, healthcare, and social security. He wants to expand nuclear energy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

John McCain
Mitt Romney
Ron Paul
Hillary Clinton
Barack Obama
John Edwards
Dennis Kucinich
Ultimate 2008 Presidential Candidate Matcher
Take More Quizzes

On the Roe v. Wade question, I punted both times--I responded that I didn't know whether it should be overturned. I think Roe v. Wade was wrongly reasoned, and I resent the Supreme Court acting like a super-legislature, which is what it did in Roe. But is the decision worth overturning based on the result and its history? On the merits of whether early-term abortions can be morally justified, or at least excused, in some circumstances, I generally think that they could be. So how would I feel about a state that outright banned the procedure? Well, I wouldn't support it, but wouldn't have much say over the matter, as I live in D.C. I couldn't even vote against the state representative that implemented the ban. I also think I would feel sympathetic to the rape or incest victim that lived in such a state. At the same time, however, I don't see how an outright ban offends the constitution as it was written (but for the Supreme Court so "discovering" that fact in 1973).

As for gay marriage: I don't think it's the law's place to even define what a marriage is. Marriage is a social and religious institution, and is defined by social forces and religious beliefs. In some areas, however, the Government has an obvious legitimate need to regulate or make rules regarding couples--such as with respect to child custody. Carrying this thinking to the logical conclusion, I would be aligned with Instapundit, who thinks that all couples--gay or straight--could apply to have a "civil union" recognized by the State, but that the State would get out of the business of issuing "marriage licenses" altogether.

My feelings on this matter, however, are not strong enough to influence my vote for President. Contrary to how many liberals feel, I do not think that extending marriage or civil unions to homosexual couples is somehow akin to overturning Jim Crow-era race restrictions on voting. In fact, I don't even think they are close. The former seeks to re-define the right at issue; the latter sought to extend the right at issue to a protected class. The rule that a person can marry exactly one other person of the opposite sex is facially non-discriminatory. It applies to all people the same. What the gay-marriage lobby wants to do is change the rule so that it would then provide that a person can marry exactly one other person, period. (But why not change the rule so that it's not limited to marrying just one other person? Why not let Hugh Hefner marry each of his three girlfriends? I'll leave that for a different post.) Anyway, whether one agrees with the change or not, one must recognize that its a different kind of change than prohibiting the extension of certain rights based on certain protected classes. So I don't see that modifying the rules on marriage in order to accomodate homosexuals rises to a moral imperative, even if I would support (or at least not oppose) a change in the policy.

Thus, my thinking on gay marriage is probably not going to sway who I back for President in 2008. There are too many other far more important issues. Thus, my waffling on the matter shouldn't be the deciding factor between backing McCain versus Guiliani. My thinking on immigration and campaign financing practically disqualifies McCain, though. I wish the matcher had recognized that...

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Thoughts from Milblogger conference

There is nothing like hanging out with a bunch of mega-bloggers all day to gain inspiration to restart one’s long-ignored blog. I went to the milbloggers conference today. Notable milbloggers in attendance were Austin Bay, Matt from Blackfive, Smash from Indepundit, Bill Roggio, and Powerline contributor Major E. LaShawn Barber, one the biggest political bloggers around, moderated the on-line forum.

Ironically, for the number of times that panel members paid tribute to the blogfather, Instapundit’s Glen Reynolds, and his book, An Army of Davids, it seems he was not reminded about it until just this past Monday, when a very little-known blogger sent him an e-mail about it. (Yes, I have the e-mail to prove it!) Indeed, Austin Bay read a passage from Davids in his closing remarks.

The most interesting of the three panels (see the agenda here), was the last one, moderated by that crusty old tv “military analyst” (read “talking head”), Col. David Hunt. (Is it just me, or does anyone else think he comes across on the small screen as sort of short-but-stocky, in a Chesty Puller kind of way? In reality, he’s at least 6 foot.)

Apart from some of the mandatory, rather solipsistic* and self-congratulatory MSM-bashing, the panel did have a lot of interesting things to say. (Don’t get me wrong, mind you, I’m no fan of the so-called MSM**, but let’s be honest, the conversation at times got a little, well, self-congratulatory.) For a few minutes, the discussion started to range into the political, in response to an Iraqi attendee’s comments about the U.S. presence in Iraq, but Col. Hunt stepped-up in his role as moderator to pull the discussion back to blogging and, more generally, media presentation of war efforts in Iraq.

The most interesting, intellectually challenging and robust discussion centered on how to get print & network TV news sources (hereinafter the “legacy media”**) to put out a message other than, for example, the daily body count from the latest roadside bomb. One attendee felt that the military service’s public affairs officers were nearly complicit in the problem, in that the Pentagon’s own press releases focused on reporting friendly casualties, while providing little context in terms of mission accomplishment or enemy casualties.

In response, one panel member who had served as a Public Affairs soldier in the Army and other attendees who are serving or had served in a Public Affairs capacity, championed their own efforts. These responses were well taken, but both panel members and attendees seemed stymied (and this is no criticism, as I have no immediate and sharp ideas on the topic) to suggest a method to get Pentagon higher-ups to embrace information operations (yes, even the dreaded “P” word--propaganda) towards winning popular support for the Iraq war on the home front.

I think it’s possible to write entire dissertations on the topic, but here’s a few thoughts swimming ‘round this Newhouse grad & former tanker’s craw on the whole topic of media and military:

- The military lost the support of the media during the Vietnam war. This point is practically conventional wisdom. I think a robust defense of this proposition could be in order, but at this point, I’m taking it as a premise. Most conference attendees took it as a premise as well, contrasting modern coverage of military operations with that of Ernie Pyle’s work in WWII.

- A substantial cause (note, that is different than saying “the sole cause” or even “the proximate cause”) of the military’s losing the confidence of the press during Vietnam was the clumsy way in which the military itself handled its information operations. To be blunt, much of the military’s Vietnam-era propaganda was demonstrably, patently and obviously false. Much of it was not, but much of it was. I know I’ll get objections on this point, so I want to be clear. I am not saying that Kerry-esque “winter soldier” testimony was in anyway accurate; nor am I suggesting that the underlying motives of the U.S. and particularly its service-members were anything less than noble during Vietnam. What I am saying is that when objective people can tell that what military spokespeople are telling them is obviously false, the military as a whole loses credibility.

- In the absence of the press’ confidence in the military, anti-military forces filled the void. This includes Kerry-esque, disenchanted (and/or opportunistic) winter soldiers, as well as our enemies. Members of the press, either intentionally or accidentally, then began to presume that whatever non-military sources told them was objective, while treating with suspicion anything military spokesmen told them.

- Further, in the wake of the Vietnam war and the Watergate scandal, the legacy media became increasingly, and even predominately, left-leaning and Democratic. I’m sure that this point is not disputed by this audience, but some elaboration seems necessary. The legacy media enjoyed a huge surge in goodwill from the American people (particularly those that leaned Democratic), by “speaking truth to power” during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The claim was not without merit, because, as noted in part above, both the military and the Nixon administration suffered, to one extent or another, from their own credibility problems during this time. The immediate beneficiaries of this “speaking truth to power” phenomenon were, of course, Democrats. This, in turn, created incentives for young Democrats to seek positions within the legacy media. After all, if the media is an institution holding much political goodwill of Americans, particular that of Democratic-leaning Americans, and one is a Democratic- and politically-oriented person, one would naturally tend to seek positions in the media. Further, old Democrats had obvious incentives to reinforce their younger brethren’s interests in this regard. Thus, a generation later, some 80-90% of personnel at the newsrooms of WaPo, the NYT and network TV self-identify as liberals and/or Democrats.

- Members of the military, particularly the senior leadership, rightly see their duty as primarily to defeat enemies on the battlefield, wherever that may be. They, quite honorably, voluntarily take on the role as “instruments of policy,” not “makers of policy.” (This very point was made today by the proprietor of “From My Position.”) While this is mostly a desirable quality in a society that recognizes civilian command of the military, it has a significant drawback. Specifically, it means that military commanders see little need to strive to win domestic political support for military operations. Indeed, military commanders may feel ethically barred (and, to some degree, actually are legally and ethically barred) from expressing political opinions domestically. (The notable exception, of course, is the current case of retired Generals allying with the interests of the Legacy media against a Republican administration.)

- The upshot of all this is that we are experiencing a legacy media that is all but openly antagonistic towards military operations that its editors don’t like, while senior military commanders feel ethically barred from offering any resistance to such antagonism or political defense of an operation.

- In turn, our enemies take advantage of this strategic weakness to achieve their operational goals, viz., withdrawal of American troops from the theater of operations based on lack of popular support on the home front in order to achieve military objectives in the theater, as was demonstrated to succeed in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia.

The above, I submit, is an identification of the problem. I think milblogs are a part of the solution (for reasons to be explained). How we exploit this asset (and shift strategic thinking within the Pentagon) is another topic, for another day.

* “Solipsistic”, of course, is just a fancy and therefore polite way of saying “self-centered.” So, my apologies to all the amazing, dedicated people I met today, but I guess I had to call that one as I saw it.

** I protest the term “MSM,” because as one attendee, an advertising exec, observed, what is termed the MSM is suffering huge losses in audience, while the audience of everything from blogs to on-line magazines to radio talk shows are enjoying a large upswing in their audiences. Thus, the institutions lumped into the “mainstream media” are not necessary “mainstream” anymore in terms of audience share. Since they have, however, enjoyed a near monopoly of audience share for at least a generation, the term “legacy media” seems more apt. I think I have to attribute the term “legacy media,” however, to the famous (notorious?) Rush Limbaugh.