State of the Union

Wagging El Perro

The US media is not paying much attention to the growing crisis between Venezuela and Colombia, presumably because it would detract from the excitement of the Clinton wedding.  Both countries have moved troops up to the border and are only an “accident” removed from shooting at each other.  It would be the first actual war in the Western Hemisphere since Ecuador and Peru faced off some years back. 

But the interesting subplot is how the US is involved because of Colombia’s status as client state and surrogate for Washington in the Andes region.  Two weeks ago, Colombia produced evidence at an Organization of American States meeting tying Venezuela to support of Colombian terrorist groups.  The Chavez government’s support of FARC in particular has been well documented for several years, but everyone is leery of getting too confrontational with oil producer Venezuela lest another gas price shock be unleashed.  So one has to wonder at the timing of the Colombian revelation, three weeks before President Alvaro Uribe is due to be replaced by his former defense minister, who has pledged that the restoration of good relations with Caracas will be a prime objective of his new government.  Uribe is clearly trying to get one last jab in against Chavez, whom he hates, and Chavez is describing the entire crisis as a by product of Yankee imperialism.  He has threatened to cut off all oil bound for the US.

Washington reportedly begged Colombia not to go to the OAS with the information on Chavez and the terrorists, but  Uribe refused to back down.  So the United States is at the mercy of the behavior of a client state that is of little or no importance.  It does something stupid or provocative and the US gets bundled into the crisis, like it or not.  It is the inherent danger in having too many commitments around the world, most of which do not matter a bit and can become real liabilities in the blink of an eye.  One might note in passing that the US military presence in Colombia, which has been a red flag waved in Chavez’ face, is part of the war on drugs, a war that Washington has been losing for thirty years, even longer than the wars currently being lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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The Future of the Right, and The American Conservative

In a fascinating article at National Journal, Jonathan Raucuh points to data showing that while more and more people identify themselves as conservative, conservatives are less apt to identify with the Republican party. The largest growing ‘category’ in politics over the last decade are ‘conservative independents’.

These are “Republican-leaners” — independents who look, sound, and generally vote much as Republicans do, but who reject the party label. According to Pew, early in the 2000s, the electorate contained one Republican-leaner for every three Republicans; by 2010, the ratio was one for every two. Indeed, among registered voters, debranded Republicans have been the only growth category in the past few years, Pew’s data shows.

The data also suggests that there is an increase in demand for serious conservatism.

From 1997 to 2010, opinion among Democrats and Democratic-leaners changed only a little, and not in a consistent direction. Non-leaning independents grew a notch more conservative. Republicans and Republican-leaners, however, grew much more conservative.

In fact, Republicans are not losing conservatives to the mushy center, but to the right. They sound like TAC readers:

According to Pew’s surveys, a solid majority of Republican-leaning independents, 55 percent, disapprove of the Republican Party’s leaders, a level that places them closer on the spectrum to Democrats than to Republicans. And they stand out from partisans on both sides for their fervent anti-incumbent sentiment.

These Republican leaning independents tend to be very pro-life but a little less fervent than partisan Republicans. They are concerned more with economic issues than typical Republicans, and almost as likely as Democrats to rate Republican leaders poorly. They despise current Democratic leadership in overwhelming numbers.

These voters are partly from the Tea Party, partly from the Liberty movement, and partly from other  dissident conservatives groups. While the article says little about the foreign policy views of these debranded Republicans, in every respect that they have been measured they look like a big potential subscriber base for The American Conservative. TAC has been providing intellectual leadership to disaffected conservatives and Republicans for over seven years now, and with the growth of these disaffected Republicans, TAC can be not only the most courageous magazine on the scene, but a much more influential one.

Pew’s research gives us thousands of reasons why TAC‘s mission is as essential now as it was in the run-up to the Iraq War, or in the 2008 election. There are scores of thousands of dissatisfied Republicans and conservatives who want someone to speak to their interests and for their principles. But if TAC is going to provide that leadership it needs the continued support of its subscribers and patrons during this webathon. You may have discovered this magazine a long time ago, but many, many more will discover it in the future with your help.

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Gregory Clark Slips Down the Memory Hole Already

First came Gregory Clark’s blockbuster, A Farewell to Alms, which offered a novel theory why the Industrial Revolution happened in England.  (Short answer: superior breeding, in the words of the Cato Institute’s Jason Kuznicki.)  Then came Clark’s fellow economic historian, Joel Mokyr, with his own magisterial history of the Industrial Revolution, The Enlightened Economy.  Trevor Butterworth reviews it for the Wall Street Journal today here.  This stuff is hot hot hot!

For good reason.  The Industrial Revolution may be the singular event in the history of our species – or any species for that matter.  Until 200 years ago, you either struggled to get enough to survive or worried about getting killed for it if you succeeded.  Now, thanks to the material abundance produced by the Industrial Revolution, humans are free to think on loftier things. (You know, Eat, Pray, Love.)  How it happened is one of the most important riddles the social sciences can solve.

Oddly, although Butterworth knows enough to generalize about how economics think (“marrying economics to intellectual history has little appeal for many economists,” says Butterworth), he does not even mention Clark’s celebrated book.  You would think that, after Clark, every history of the Industrial Revolution must either support, qualify or reject his thesis.  (Razib Khan noted the tension or possible complementarity of Mokyr and Clark before either book had even been published.)  Yet Butterworth still blithely endorses Mokyr’s view that the Industrial Revolution was caused by (i) ideology (i.e., Enlightenment values) and (ii) institutions (i.e., free-trade and property rights), both of which explanations Clark rejects as either epiphenomenal (ideology is a product of material factors) or contrary to fact (superior institutions do not cause prosperity).  How could Butterworth not acknowledge the most famous alternative to Mokyr’s views?

Possibly Butterworth is somehow simply unaware of Clark, though that seems unlikely.  Subconsciously or not, Butterworth may instead have decided simply to ignore him.  For, having praised Mokyr, Butterworth goes on to draw a conventional lesson:

[The Enlightened Economy]‘s perceptive examination of the birth of economic prosperity holds many arresting insights for our fraught economic times, where freedom is increasingly associated with government regulation and politicians appear all too-willing to accommodate new varieties of rent seeking.

In other words, argues Butterworth, prosperity depends on having the correct (free-market) institutions. No, it does not.  On the contrary, if you believe Gregory Clark, prosperity depends on having the right people.  Butterworth comes from the school of libertarian globo-optimists, who believe that all you need to do to relieve the suffering of mankind is to spread our superior market institutions.  Liberty is for everyone!  I’m all for liberty.  Alas, if we spread it around the globe, or invite others to come here to enjoy it, we will not necessarily be doing ourselves (or, in the long run, them) any favors.

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Coming Home at Last?

Asked if the United States might send still more troops to Afghanistan, if the Obama surge is not succeeding by year’s end, Vice President Joe Biden answered, “I do not believe so.”

So, that is it. Biden is saying the 100,000 U.S. troops in theater or on the way is our limit. If Kabul and the Afghan army fail with this investment of American forces, they will be permitted to fail. All the chips we are going to commit are now on the table.

And a series of critical deadlines is approaching.

By the end of August, all U.S. combat troops are to be out of Iraq. Only 50,000 “training troops” are to remain, but all U.S. forces are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of 2011.

In December, a review takes place of Afghan war strategy. Next July, U.S. withdrawals are to begin, though, since naming Gen. David Petraeus as his field commander, President Obama and his cabinet have emphasized that the withdrawals will be “conditions-based.”

We will walk, not run, to the exit.

But if we are topping out in Afghanistan, and the U.S. troop presence in Iraq is already less than half of the 170,000 after the surge of 2007, it seems America is on her way out of both wars.

What did they accomplish — and at what cost?

Saddam and his Baathist regime were overthrown, the dictator was hanged, elections were held, and a government that reflects the will of a majority of Iraqis put in its place.

Cost to the United States: More than 4,200 U.S. dead, 35,000 wounded, $700 billion sunk. In the Islamic world, the Iraq War led to pandemic hostility toward America. At home, the war led to the rout of the Republicans and the election of an anti-war liberal Democrat.

If Obama is indeed leading America into socialism, the War Party that led us into Iraq can take a full measure of credit. Read More…

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How Not to Reform Immigration

Lindsey Graham opened up to Politico, announcing that he was thinking of drafting a Constitutional amendment to overturn birthright citizenship.

Asked how intent Graham is on introducing the amendment, the South Carolina Republican responded: “I got to.”

“People come here to have babies,” he said. “They come here to drop a child. It’s called “drop and leave.” To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to the emergency room, have a child, and that child’s automatically an American citizen. That shouldn’t be the case. That attracts people here for all the wrong reasons.

Of course, Graham was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2007. Back then dropped babies weren’t his concerns, rather he wanted to “tell the bigots to shut-up.”

There is no good reason for immigration restrictionists to soften up to Graham now. Overturning birthright citizenship doesn’t bring order or justice to America’s decades long problem of illegal immigration. There may be good reasons to think that overturning it would do little reverse illegal immigration, and much to prevent assimilation.

In any case, Graham’s re-framing of the immigration issue in one of the silliest and most counter-productive possible and his chosen method signals that he is not serious. Constitutional amendments are almost impossible to pass, especially in this age of gridlock and ideological sorting of parties. In other words, this is a stunt, just as his former denunciation of “bigots” was a stunt.

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Is Big Government Here to Stay?

As an historian, I am amused to hear GOP journalists predicting that the “people” will soon be kicking out big government. We’re not going to repeat the mistake of the generation that voted in Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. Voters will not stray a second time in November. Instead they’ll rally to the Republicans, who will return power to the private sector.

There are three glaring problems with this scenario. One, those who have constructed it have no intention of rolling back the state, or even those additions to it that were introduced since the 1930s. Neither Glenn Beck nor Jonah Goldberg would favor rescinding the key legislation of the 1960s, which vastly extended Washington’s anti-discrimination surveillance and which placed entire regions of the country under scrutiny because of past voting discrimination. Moreover, the entire conservative establishment went ballistic when the GOP candidate in Nevada voiced her objection to the Department of Education (created by Carter and then expanded by Reagan). Anyone reading the movement conservative press would think the Department of Education was part of the original Constitution. It was set up to pay off Democratic teachers’ unions but became a source of patronage for both parties. Read More…

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Obama’s a Bigger Big Brother Than the Last Guy

Obama seems driven to break every campaign promise he ever made and become the biggest Big Brother of them all. After flipping the script on Patriot Act reformists last year when he supported the extension of unconstitutional law enforcement provisions he once criticized, now he wants to broaden the amount of information the FBI can access without warrant for so-called counter-terror investigations:

From The Washington Post this morning:

The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual’s Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation.

The administration wants to add just four words — “electronic communication transactional records” — to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge’s approval. Government lawyers say this category of information includes the addresses to which an Internet user sends e-mail; the times and dates e-mail was sent and received; and possibly a user’s browser history. It does not include, the lawyers hasten to point out, the “content” of e-mail or other Internet communication.

But what officials portray as a technical clarification designed to remedy a legal ambiguity strikes industry lawyers and privacy advocates as an expansion of the power the government wields through so-called national security letters. These missives, which can be issued by an FBI field office on its own authority, require the recipient to provide the requested information and to keep the request secret. They are the mechanism the government would use to obtain the electronic records.

Stewart A. Baker, a former senior Bush administration Homeland Security official, said the proposed change would broaden the bureau’s authority. “It’ll be faster and easier to get the data,” said Baker, who practices national security and surveillance law. “And for some Internet providers, it’ll mean giving a lot more information to the FBI in response to an NSL.”

It seems so perverse and creepy, considering that WaPo reported only last week in its “Top Security America” series that the federal government’s behemoth intelligence/security apparatus already has way more data than it can possibly analyze effectively. It’s  disheartening that the administration admits it’s targeting those hold-out Internet service providers that have been heretofore unwilling to play ball with the feds. In other words, private companies that have, so far, resisted the government’s push for greater authority and control over the Net.

Senior administration officials said the proposal was prompted by a desire to overcome concerns and resistance from Internet and other companies that the existing statute did not allow them to provide such data without a court-approved order…

To critics, the move is another example of an administration retreating from campaign pledges to enhance civil liberties in relation to national security. The proposal is “incredibly bold, given the amount of electronic data the government is already getting,” said Michelle Richardson, American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel.

I guess it’s safe to say now that civil libertarians have been thoroughly hosed (in other words, hoodwinked, flimflammed, bamboozled, duped, chiseled and burned) by Barack “the constitutional law professor” Obama. The question remains, how far will he go?

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Is Pakistan Killing Our Troops?

The latest Wikileaks infobomb revealed hundreds of civilian deaths at the hands of NATO, among other “unreported” misadventures in Afghanistan. By exposing the truth, Wikileaks “puts the lives of Americans and our Allies at risk,” says The Obama Administration. The Dear Leader forgives many things. Unnecessarily endangering our troops isn’t one of them. Especially in Afghanistan, where He deploys them to defend our freedom from “maybe 50-100” members of Al Qaeda.

Every President hides behind his soldiers. This cloaks their wars from serious scrutiny. But for Obama, that tactic might be even more disingenuous.

According to one file released by Wikileaks, “Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions,” and helps “organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan.” The New York Times reports this data is unverified, but that “many of the reports rely on sources that the military rated as reliable.” Other Wikileaks logs accuse Pakistan of supplying the Taliban with motorbikes for suicide bombings.

This is the same Pakistan Hillary Clinton called our “partner joined in common cause” while promising $500 million in foreign aid. War, like politics, makes for unsavory bedfellows. Is the US knowingly making cash payoffs to a government that mobilizes and arms its adversaries?

What ghastly allegations. Superpatriots, who still get all hot and bothered over Jane Fonda, should be appalled! Jane did mingle with the People’s Army of Vietnam. But she didn’t bequeath them a B-16.

Is Pakistan killing our soldiers? Was our troop-supporting President aware? Let the investigation begin.

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The answer is right in front of you

Nation writer Eric Alterman’s 17,000-word essay “Kabuki Democracy” is about one-third interesting points, one-third liberal whining about how all-powerful talk-radio hosts and Fox News prevented a progressive black man from being elected President (oh wait a minute, that didn’t happen), and one-third problems and potential solutions. It points out, however inadvertently, the follies of centralism from the point of view of the left.

If we have a “Kabuki Democracy” with the puppeteers being the vested interest, it’s because the powers that be are powerful and intend never to give up the strings of that power. And what makes them even more powerful is that they can focus much of their efforts in one single place: Washington D.C., where they get what they want or prevent what they don’t want from happening.

If it is true that Senators spend the bulk of their time fundraising (even with six-year terms), would not repealing the 17th Amendment be a way of correcting this problem? How much democracy can there be in a choice between two corporate puppets? If it is true that corporations have corrupted both the political and regulatory process on the federal level, would transferring such powers more and more to states, counties and townships be a way of preventing this from happening?  If organizing at the local level may offer Leftists a better chance of changing the political landscape, why not more local government?

This is not to say that corporate money would eventually flow downward, because it probably will. But it is a lot easier to organize in a state senate district than across the nation all at once.  A nation of thousands of small communities, counties, townships, etc. may very well provide a better check on the corporate, interest dominated central government than thinking a president can change the system all by his lonesome. The netroots got its start outside the Beltway, not in it. Perhaps if the Left can cross the Rubicon and start believing they can make more of a difference at the courthouse, rather than continually organizing marches on Washington D.C.—or thinking that they someday will control the center (which they won’t)—they might find it more productive and rewarding and also be joined by libertarians and conservatives who feel the same way.  Then we can truly have a two-party system pitting the center of power against everyone else.

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New Columns From Kauffman and Giraldi

Today TAC celebrates its roster of the best columnists in print, with brand new columns from Bill Kauffman and Philip Giraldi, as well as Stuart Reid’s piece from the current issue. Kauffman explores the writer as public performer in “The Loneliness of the Long Dissonant Reader.” (And if you’re in the vicinity of Brockport, NY, don’t miss Bill’s appearance at Lift Bridge Books tomorrow.) Giraldi meanwhile provides the inside scoop on Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri — a defector and U.S. intelligence asset who decided to return to Tehran. Check out this exclusive “Deep Background” column for why he did so, and what his decision means for the CIA.

And, if you missed it on Monday, be sure to read Eamonn Fingleton’s essay on the lessons we can learn from the decline of the Ottomans — “How to Lose an Empire.”

If you enjoy these items, help us keep them coming by making a donation today.

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