State of the Union

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Update: Thanks to everyone who took the survey.

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Stuck in the Desert with Nowhere to Go

Watching the military parades held in Iraq’s cities earlier today to celebrate the departure of the US troops and noting the deaths of four more Americans during the withdrawal it was all too easy to think that the wheel has turned full circle.  Iraq is headed by a strongman who intends to stay in power come what may, not unlike Saddam though representing a different constituency.  The country continues to be one of the most corrupt in the world and electricity and water are in short supply, worse even then during Saddam’s latter days. 

US interests have hardly been served by the six year occupation.  Apart from defense contractors and a few oil companies it is hard to imagine that anyone sees any benefits.  4319 Americans and at least 90,000 Iraqis killed violently since 2003.  At a cost of maybe as much as $5 trillion when all the bills are paid by our grandchildren.  Saddam’s secularism has been replaced by a Shi’ite dominated power structure and Iraq’s role as an Arab bulwark against Iranian hegemony is just a memory.  The Christian minority, protected under Saddam, has more-or-less fled the country.  Iran has benefited most from America’s takedown of Saddam.  And yet there are 130,000 US troops remaining in their fortress-bases outside the cities, there to help maintain order, apparently.  Bring them home and tell the Iraqis to use their oil money to hire more police.  The whole Iraq adventure made no sense when it started and makes even less sense now.  Cheney is getting a $2 million advance for his memoirs.

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Lowering the bar

The Las Vegas Review-Journal published this editorial after Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) admitted to an extra marital affair. Here’s an interesting passage:

“But despite the predictable cries of “hypocrisy” from leftists who are only spared the label because so little is expected of them, it’s worth pointing out that this is a personal matter — not the kind of betrayal of official trust Democrats demonstrate every time they sacrifice the public welfare to satiate their paymasters, the trial lawyers or the public employee unions. “

Well, it goes without saying one does not charge another with hypocrisy unless one tries to pass themselves off as “morally superior” to the other fellow or party.  The modern GOP and its politicians have set themselves up for such charges and subsequently such downfalls if their politicians are exposed as being morally challenged. Politicians for both parties are caught in such scandals all the time. That Republicans suffer perhaps more so is their own fault given what they wish voters to perceive themselves as being as Patrick Ruffini points out:

“This is a structural disadvantage that, on the margins, hurts Republican officeholders, forcing them into resignation or disgrace more easily than their equally adulterous Democratic counterparts.

Simply put, it is a strategic error to sanctify the idea that it’s worse when Republicans cheat. The hypocrisy charge exacts a double penalty on Republicans where none exists for Democrats — first, in the accusation of hypocrisy itself, and second, in the media whipping social conservatives into a frenzy in a bid to belatedly “enforce” their moral code — exactly the thing the secular media believes you shouldn’t do 364 days out of the year — to hound a Republican out of office.

This penalty exists because since 1980 various Republicans running for public office in many states have had to go through a morality “litmus test” because courting religious interest voters requires it. This could be anything from stands on issue, to campaign talk about “family values” to promoting said family (wives and children included)in a campaign to burnish one’s credentials. Mark Sanford, even though his policies and rhetoric focused more on economics and federalism, was forced to do such things (or at least he felt he had to) in order to pass such a litmus test with South Carolina’s Republican primary electorate.

Read More…

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McChrystal’s Mission

The advent of General Stanley McChrystal as America’s overall commander in Afghanistan appears to be good news. He seems to understand that in this kind of war, the rule must be, “First, do no harm.” Associated Press recently reported him as saying that his measure of effectiveness will be “the number of Afghans shielded from violence, not the number of militants killed.” Unusually, he seems to include American and NATO violence in his calculation, since he has ordered a drastic cutback in airstrikes. Heavy American reliance on airstrikes has probably done more than anything else to win the war for the Taliban.

But history is littered with the failures of promising new generals; “Fighting Joe” Hooker somehow comes to mind. If General McChrystal is to represent any real hope that the U.S. might get out of Afghanistan with some tailfeathers intact, he must confront a host of challenges. Let’s look at just four:

• The Second Generation American armed forces must learn how to make war by means other than putting firepower on targets. However, that is all they know how to do. A friend who recently graduated from the U.S. Army’s Command & Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth told me that virtually the whole course is still about putting fire on targets. Nightwatch for May 17 reported that “An Indian criticism of the US effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan is that it does not lack will, it lacks skill.” That criticism is valid, and it traces directly to military education and training that remains stuck in the Second Generation. Read More…

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Iran Is Not Eastern Europe

Jim Antle has a rather good post up at AmSpec’s blog taking a look at the conservative movement’s reaction to Bill Buckley’s increasingly antiwar late-life views. I wish, though, Jim had been explicit about whom he (that is, Jim) had in mind when he wrote, “Believers in [the older conservatism] have sometimes been guilty of indifference in the face of tyranny.” It’s true that Gerald Ford didn’t believe Eastern Europe was dominated by the Soviet Union, but that was long after his America First days. Which old conservatives have been indifferent to tyranny?

If old-right-style conservatives are not as breathless about the Green protests in Iran as neoconservatives and Andrew Sullivan are, it’s not out of any indifference to tyranny but from the knowledge that Iran is not analogous to Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. Reagan could hearten the anti-Soviet dissidents of Poland and other Eastern bloc countries because Poles and East Germans and Czechs wanted to be Western. Iranians, by contrast, do not want to be Westerners, even if they do not want to be ruled by the likes of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei either. To acknowledge this is not to be indifferent to tyranny, it’s to realize that in the actual, complex world of nation states, expressing support for one side in a foreign country’s politics does not always redound to that sides benefit. Words can backfire. (Neocons commit in foreign policy the very error they condemn in the liberals’ domestic politics — that of overlooking unintended consequences.)

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Food, Inc.

If you care about what you’re eating, you should see the new documentary Food Inc. Playing in major cities for the past few weeks, it’s a mostly even-handed examination of the industrialization and corporate domination of America’s food production. Between showing filthy chicken coops full of drugged birds that can barely move and cows packed in amongst piles of excrement, it explains how federal agricultural subsidies encourage the overproduction of corn. No wonder we use corn in everything, from feeding cows (where corn feed is linked to higher rates of E. coli) to making artificial sweetener for countless soft drinks.

The film has one major fault. It concludes with the message that one of the clear causes of the disease can also be its cure. The FDA is supposed to protect us, it prods in the closing credits. But is it reasonable to assume that you will ever be able to trust Washington bureaucrats with protecting your children? The documentary’s most engaging interview is with small farmer Joel Salatin, who reminds us that the typical attitude of the central regulators—”we know what’s best for you – so comply!”—is the same kind of outlook that gets America into messy foreign entanglements.

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Dr. Paul in TAC

Dr. Rand Paul, that is. Pick up the August issue to read his essay on the army of lobbyists working to rip you off — and what can be done about them.

Of course, the best way to make sure you get this and everything else in TAC is to subscribe. Not only do you ge the print magazine, but you get instant online access to a PDF copy of the latest issue as well, plus all our archives. All for just 29.95.

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Big Business Sees Green

In the wake of cap and trade passing the House last Friday, we’ve made the cover story for our August issue, “The Green-Industrial Complex,” available online. Brendan O’Neill reveals how “green” carbon legislation privileges big business at the expense of small businesses and nonprofits — and of course, the taxpayer. Here’s a taste:

Under the plan first proposed in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and introduced in Europe in the early and mid-2000s, the European Union and UN allocate to industry legal titles to emit a certain amount of CO2. Because the titles are transferable, and because large numbers were allocated to large corporations when the licenses were first introduced, there arose a market in carbon-trading. Powerful businesses were able to sell their CO2 permits to smaller companies that needed to emit a certain amount of CO2. This created the bizarre, but apparently environmentalist, situation in which major corporations with extra CO2 titles were able to charge smaller organizations for the “right” to emit carbon.

In the UK, the University of Manchester, like so many other educational institutions, public buildings, and small businesses, had to pay up. It forked over £92,500 for CO2 permits-and when the carbon-trading market hit the recession and the value of CO2 permits fell, the university would be doing well, said one report, “if it managed to get £1,000 for the lot of them.” The Green-Industrial Complex’s transformation of CO2 into a tradeable commodity actually empowered large corporations and led to new forms of risky speculation.

Read on.

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Good Rulings, Bad Precedent

The Supreme Court today ruled in favor of a firefighter suing the city of New Haven for denying him a promotion on account of his race (he’s white). In doing so, SCOTUS overturned an appeals court ruling from Sonia Sotomayor. Earlier in this session, the Supreme Court delivered two other rulings that might seem encouraging on the civil liberties front: the court decided that school authorities may not strip-search a 13-year-old girl as part of the all-important War on Ibuprofen, and the court ruled that defendants can cross-examine forensic technicians. (That latter decision found Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas joined by John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David Souter — with a similarly mixed coalition of “liberals” and “conservatives” in dissent. Interesting that the two Dubya-appointed conservatives justices, Roberts and Alito, opposed the older conservatives on this question of state privilege.)

These might be considered three wins for civil liberties, and in the context of the legal system as it stands, they are. But should any branch of the federal government be telling the state of Connecticut what firefighters to hire or prescribing to Arizonans what a school principal may or may not do? It makes a joke of the notion of federalism that the U.S. Supreme Court can dictate policy at such minute levels. We do have state courts and legislatures to provide redress for these kinds of grievances (though they’re just as bad as SCOTUS, if not worse). If we must have a nationalized judicial system, it ought to rule justly, but this is not the way our federal republic is supposed to work. That knowledge should temper our celebration even of apparent civil-liberties victories like these.

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It is business as usual in the U.K. The catch phrase at city drinks parties is “Bonuses are Back”: Bab for short. After much breast beating and  a great song and dance over the appointment of a new speaker ,who was supposed to sort out the fecklessness of our parliamentarians, the labour party used their majority to vote in Mr Feckless himself, John Bercow  . It was a silly partisan victory. The Tories were left gnashing their teeth because Bercow is a turncoat tory having drifted from the far right to being proto-labour after marrying Sally  Illman a labour sympathiser.  In all this Majaderia the true potential saviour of the British parliamentary soul was left languishing on the back benches with a mere 40 votes. That person was Anne Widdicombe: a Roman Catholic, self proclaimed virgin with a shrill voice and an  incorrigibly honest and persistent nature. She would have harried and berated those greedy parliamentarians until they acquired some moral sense.  It would have been great fun to watch, but alas it was not to be.  One postscript: the speaker will get an enormous pension when he retires. Anne Widdecombe would have only been speaker for one year as she has already announced that she wishes to retire, but an enormous pension in her hands would have been well spent on good causes. I doubt that the same will apply when Mr Bercow retires 

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