State of the Union

Gary Hart Is Right

About what a U.S. strike on Iran would mean:

1.  Bombing a sovereign nation is a de facto declaration of war.  Our Constitution requires the Congress, not the President, to declare war.  Simply because we have launched a number of wars without a Congressional declaration does not mean the Constitutional requirement has been suspended;

2.  Such an attack will have economic consequences for us.  The Iranians most likely would blockade the Strait of Hormuz, thus reducing the shipment of Persian Gulf oil–almost one-quarter of our imports–and dramatically increasing world oil prices.  This would have a powerfully negative affect on our already fragile economy;

3.  Such an attack would place great stress on our military.  We cannot continue the Afghan war, prop up the neighboring Iraqi government, and create a third battlefield in the Middle East.  It is folly to assume that a US-Iran war can be carried out by the Navy and Air Force alone.  Our ground combat forces are near exhaustion;

4.  Bombing Iran would virtually assure an attack of considerable dimensions carried out against Israel.  This would involve both Iranian and Lebanon-based missiles.  Israel would necessarily retaliate.  We would then have all-out war in the Middle East.

Read on.

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Liberaltarianism, RIP

The Cato Institute is soon to part ways with Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson, exponents of the libertarian-liberal fusion (and all-around bad idea) known as “liberaltarianism.” Even a good Burkean might find something of value in an compound of the best elements of the Left and libertarianism, but what Lindsey and Wilkinson seemed to be headed toward was a hybrid of a worst. Lindsey had even been a “liberventionist” in the days when the Iraq War was aborning. I suppose he’s still one today. (See comments.)

I find myself largely agreeing with Joseph Lawler at First Things:

Lindsey’s brand of liberaltarianism, especially, proscribed conservative priorities and values to such an extent that it almost seemed, to me at least, to exclude almost all movement libertarians. Take, for instance, Lindsey’s 2007 denunciation of libertarian hero Ron Paul. Lindsey claimed that Paul’s conservative personal viewpoints (“his xenophobia, his sovereignty-obsessed nationalism, his fondness for conspiracy theories, his religious fundamentalism”) indicated that Paul had a “crudely authoritarian worldview.”

Paul, to say the very least, is far from an authoritarian, as anyone with a passing knowledge of anarchist-tinged brand of politics will tell you. In criticizing him for having what are in Lindsey’s estimation backward values, Lindsey has somehow forgotten the fundamental tenet of libertarian ideology: that diverse worldviews are easily compatible when the government stays out of personal affairs.

Actually, there’s plenty of debate among libertarians on that last point, and the question is less about whether a libertarian order can tolerate “diverse worldviews” than whether a particular kind of worldview is necessary to have a libertarian order in the first place. But Lawler is right that many libertarians, no less than conservatives, find Lindsey’s pronouncements objectionable.

Was that enough to get him fired from Cato? There’s no tenure at any think tank that I know of, which means that just about anyone can be dismissed for any reason at any time. I’ll miss Wilkinson as the editor of Cato Unbound, which set a standard for online-only journals.

Update: Thomas Knapp has a smart post about why liberaltarianism was doomed as a political strategy — libertarianism has been a reaction against the party in power, and for most of the 20th century, that party was the liberal party. I would add that while Washington has been more Republican and “conservative” in the decades since LBJ, the perception of big government as a liberal problem (rather than a deficit-spending-and-militarism Republican problem) still survives.

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Only Bigots Oppose the Mosque!

“Where are the Republican leaders who will reject pandering and prejudice?” wailed The Washington Post in its most recent editorial in support of Cordoba House mosque near Ground Zero.

Like the controversy over the mosque, the Post editorial reveals the two Americas we have become, uncomprehending of and hostile to each other, even as we drift apart.

To the Post, opposition boils down to three arguments, all of them “objectionable.” The first is a wrong-headed belief “that the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center and killed almost 3,000 people there in 2001 really did represent Islam.”

The second is that, as many families of 9/11 victims associate the terrorists with Islam, to build a mosque near the scene of the massacre would be sacrilegious and wounding.

The third is cynical politics. As two-in-three Americans oppose the mosque, siding with them and savaging supporters of Cordoba House is to run unconscionably with the crowd.

None of these arguments is acceptable, says the Post, for they represent misunderstanding, prejudice or “repugnant” politics.

What the Post is saying is that opponents of the mosque are all either bigoted ignoramuses or political panderers.

Quite a statement, when a Time poll finds that 61 percent of Americans oppose the mosque and 70 percent believe that to build it near Ground Zero would defile hallowed ground. Read More…

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No Tea for K Street

The invaluable Tim Carney, now a Washington Examiner senior political columnist, has a piece today on the divide between the Tea Parties and the K Street faction of the GOP. It’s a narrative I’m skeptical of — who’s to say a Tea Partier today won’t be a lobbyist lapdog tomorrow? — but Carney includes plenty of data that illustrate the primary-season divide:

In Colorado’s Senate primary last week, the Tea Party trumped K Street as Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck upset former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton. Norton, herself a former lobbyist who tried to run from that background, raised $293,000 from PACs. Buck got only $2,500 in PAC cash.

Buck got zero support from Republican lawmakers’ PACs while 15 GOP incumbents funded Norton, including leaders Mitch McConnell, Lamar Alexander, John Thune and Kay Bailey Hutchison. Two senators who have cashed out to K Street — Mel Martinez and Trent Lott — also put their money behind Norton.

Kentucky shows an even starker contrast. Before the May 18 Senate primary, secretary of state and McConnell acolyte Trey Grayson had raised a half million dollars from PACs —20 times the PAC haul of upstart Rand Paul. Paul got a check from outgoing curmudgeon Sen. Jim Bunning, but 18 Republican senators bankrolled Grayson’s campaign, plus the Republican Mainstreet Partnership and three top House Republicans.

Paul should turn out well, but what about the rest? Surprisingly, Kentucky wasn’t the only place where the Tea Party candidate was also the less militaristic Republican — the Colorado, too, K Street candidate Jane Norton attempted to paint her rival, Ken Buck, as soft on terror. Other Tea Party contenders don’t seem to differ much in foreign policy from their establishment opponents, but it’ll be interesting to see if any kind of group mentality forms among the (relative) outsiders who win this November. Political change isn’t always direct; sometimes alliances made on one set of issues translate into policy alterations on other fronts.

Still, we’ve seen Republican revolutionaries turn into K Street kittens before — not only in the years following the GOP’s 1994 takeover of Congress, but also much earlier when the grassroots Goldwaterites and young, idealistic YAFers learned how much money they could make by playing within the system. Carney’s exactly right when he says, “You can see today, by their improved personal financial situations, what Lott and Dole were trying to accomplish in Washington.” Unfortunately, what’s true of Lott and Dole is true of the leaders of pretty much every “conservative” organization in this town, as the Bush years demonstrated.

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Iraq’s Future, Israel’s Espionage

Don’t miss TAC‘s latest online exclusives — Jon Basil Utley on why Iraq’s constitution is unworkable and Philip Giraldi’s “Deep Background” column on Mossad activity in America.

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Fox makes it official

The phrase “fair and balanced” must, these days, produce a smirk among the reporters, editors, news personalities and brass over at Fox News. What few liberals and/or Democrats were working for Fox are pretty much gone now, leaving only the network’s tilt to the GOP, a bias that was recently confirmed by the million-dollar donation given to the Republican Governor’s Association by Fox’s owner News Corp.

Other media conglomerates and their parent companies have given money to politicians and parties before, but never in this amount or heavily toward one party. Fine then. If Roger Ailes, a veteran GOP consultant before he became Fox News head, wants to put Fox’s money where its mouth is, he should do so. After all, a partisan press is as American as apple pie. From the earliest days of the Republic through to the 20th century, many newspapers and other media were tied to political parties. This goes back to the days of the Gazette of the United States being a mouthpiece for the Federalists that inspired Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to publish the National Gazette in order to provide the same kind of voice for the Democratic Republicans. After World War II, as journalism professionalized itself and persons had to go to college to get reporting jobs, most newspapers and other publications tried to become “objective” in their reporting, i.e. reporters would act like robots and omnipresent, god-like observers on the news, thinking they could deny their humanity or any kind of built-in prejudices and biases when reporting. This only made viewers and readers distrustful, angry, and cynical at the media when they knew this kind of reporting was impossible. Fox News took this standard and threw it in the face of media establishment, saying that most journalists were already biased towards the Left, given this inbred culture of university-trained journalists. The only way you could find true “fairness” and “balance” in the news to reach the objectivity standard of the profession was to find those rare conservatives in the field and hire them, not just as pundits or news personalities, but also as editors, reporters, and executives.  This automatically won Fox the niche audience it sought while seeming to reach for the standard.

But now if Fox wishes to go down this path of official partisanship, it must do so fully. It has to drop the “fair and balanced” moniker because it’s become a joke. Nobody believes it. Call yourself  “America’s Conservative News Network” or “The No.1 Network for Republican News,” but not “fair and balanced.” One can debate whether Fox News is fair or not (and if you are a Ron Paul supporter you have your doubts). Well, if News Corp makes a similar campaign contribution to a Democratic campaign committee this election year, perhaps it might change one’s mind on that point.

But I will not hold my breath on it.

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The Limited Value-Add of Value-Adding

The LA Times unveiled this week the first results of a massive report measuring the “value-added” by each of thousands of teachers in the Los Angeles United School District.  I hate to throw cold water on it. For the most part, the report is in an impressive advance.  “Value-added” metrics attempt to separate the influence on student performance of schools and teachers from the influence of student background.  Though elementary, in today’s climate of opinion, the distinction is subversive.  As Richard Buddin, the RAND Corporation scholar from whom the LA Times commissioned the report, writes:

Many teachers feel that student performance is based on student background and preparation factors that they are unable to control. The premise is that inner-city teachers serve an at-risk population that will always have lower performing students than their counterparts in more affluent suburbs. This argument has considerable merit for comparing absolute test score levels across schools . . . .

In other words, the best schools get that way because they have the best students to begin with.  You don’t say!  Yet if school quality is a function of student quality, then “bad schools” can’t explain the persistence of achievement gaps between whites and (non-asian) minorities. (On the contrary, achievement gaps between whites and minorities can explain the existence of “bad schools.”)  For many, this is an unwelcome thought, as it eliminates the most obvious and popular (though by no means the only) rationale for blaming society for racial inequalities.

Nonetheless, the LA Times doesn’t hold back:  “Contrary to popular belief,” the Times reports, “the best teachers were not concentrated in schools in the most affluent neighborhoods, nor were the weakest instructors bunched in poor areas.”  Duggins himself bluntly concludes that school effects “are small relative to . . . student achievement gaps between groups.”  In other words, “bad schools” are a myth. They do not explain differences in education outcomes.

Still, for all the report’s courage, the cold water needs throwing. Careless readers of the LA Times may conclude that, to fix the schools, all we need to do is to recruit better teachers. But Buddin in no way shows that good teachers are a panacea.  By design, the Buddin study only measures changes in student performance over one year. A good teacher may very well inspire his students to max out their potential in the short term.  That does not mean that he has any ability to change outcomes in the long term.

For example, thanks to my good study habits in high school, I routinely pulled better grades than classmates who were smarter than I was. In the end, however, it was those classmates who landed the Supreme Court clerkships after law school or graduated Alpha Omega from medical school, not I. By working harder than they did, I could temporarily outperform them.  Ultimately, I couldn’t keep up. 

The gains from having a good teacher are similarly temporary. Sure, you can prod a slacker for a year or two and get him to think a little bit less about girls and little bit more about arithmetic.  But you can’t prod him to do calculus if he doesn’t have the brains for it. Moreover, as soon as you stop prodding, he may prefer to return to his (more pleasant) slacker ways. Good teachers may provide no more than a temporary bounce in performance that, over the course of a whole academic career (or lifetime), cannot be sustained. 

Tellingly, the Bruddin study says nothing about the marginal returns of having good teachers.  Suppose a student has enjoyed “value-adding” teachers four years in a row – does he see the same gains every year?  The Bruddin report does not say.  If Buddin took another look at the data, he might find that, just as in everything else, marginal returns tend to diminish. 

In the meantime, teachers without Patton-esque motivational skills are going to get blamed for failing students.  Let’s give them a break.  In the long term, they’re probably not doing any worse than their colleagues.

UPDATE: In the comments below, ”Ciro” links below to research suggesting that gains from having effective teachers several years in a row are cumulative after all. I note that the literature summary to which he links says that “[N]o one has run a true experiment that involves actually randomly assigning students to high-performing teachers for several consecutive years.” So, there is some evidence to support the view that gains from having high-performing teachers are cumulative, but it is not yet conclusive.

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A Remembrance of Anne

It was December of 1965 that I first looked on the friendly Irish face of Anne Volz, outside the law office of Richard M. Nixon.

Anne was Nixon’s receptionist, and she ushered me into a small office behind her where one encountered the formidable presence of Rose Mary Woods.

For 18 months, through that 1966 election, Anne, Rose and I worked in that tiny space with a volunteer who answered the phone as “Mrs. Ryan.”

Mrs. Ryan was the future first lady Pat Nixon

Anne became my big sister. She brought me cigarettes. She brought me my cheeseburger and vanilla shake at lunch. She even tried to find me a nice Catholic girl. Anne invited me to join her and her boyfriend George at a dance at the New York Athletic Club for Catholic bachelors and spinsters.

It was not a good fit. But, as ever, Anne meant well.

In the spring of 1967, Nixon’s receptionist from his days as vice president, a Shelley Scarney, returned, and Anne was put in charge of the rising volume of mail Nixon was receiving. She had her life’s vocation. Anne would be in charge of the correspondence for three U.S. presidents. Read More…

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Listen to TAC’s Associate Publisher on Antiwar Radio

TAC Associate Publisher John Basil Utley is today’s featured guest on Antiwar.com radio.  You can listen here.  Interviewed by Scott Horton, topics Utley touched on include

the “national defense” exception from popular outrage against government waste, conservatives who think government isn’t competent to run a nursery school but is up to running a world empire, why warfare and welfare go hand in hand, the coming VAT that will aid in prolonging the U.S. empire and why the conservative movement is all out of good ideas.

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Webathon Success … and now, phase II

Thanks to a very generous web donor who gave $5000 at the end of our summer webathon, TAC met and slightly exceeded our goal for web fundraising.  The Editors extend a heartfelt thanks to all donors who made this phase of our current fundraising efforts a success.  Every dollar makes a difference — and though we have formally ended the webathon promotional efforts this week, you can continue to make tax-deductible contributions through our online giving page.

While the webathon brought us closer to closing the gap in our 2010-11 deficit, we need a few more generous donors to fully raise our sails and keep this ship seaworthy for the next year.  Please get in touch with us if you have ideas about where we might find more support.

To our webathon donors, thank you again for your gifts.  Your generosity has raised the spirits of everyone here at TAC.

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