Thursday, December 31, 2009

My answer to Politico's "Arena"--a prediction for 2010:

My not-so-bold prediction for 2010 is that we will recognize the obvious: the late Samuel Huntington was right. This is a clash of civilizations, between the West and Islam.   This realization will flummox the politically correct piety of both the right and the left--just in time.  

On the right, by the end of 2010, there won't be many who still agree with George  W. Bush's 2001 assessment that "Islam is peace.” And so, by the Bushian logic--that the hostility that many Muslims feel toward the US and the West is because their governments aren’t democratic, not because of any innate differences of culture and religion--America’s security policy has been twisted around a p.c. pretzel. For the last eight years, while we’ve been trying to liberate Muslims from their bad governments, we have been misgoverning our own people: screening American-born grandmothers and babies at airports. Because, after all, there's no automatic reason, in this right-wing p.c. worldview--to think of Muslims as more risky.

And on the left, there won't be many remaining who still agree with Barack Obama's assessment that a renewed commitment to diplomacy, speechmaking, bowing, and carbon-reducing--plus, of course, 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan, and continuing drone attacks in Pakistan and who knows where else--will warm Muslim hearts.    Obama can't be blamed for what's going on in Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia, and Turkey (on top of Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan), but that's Huntington's point: the clash is bigger than any one individual, or any one country.    

But in the meantime, the Obamans have inherited, and not thought to change, a homeland security system in which it is forbidden to think that granny and junior, not to mention their lotions and gels, are any more potentially dangerous than a 23-year-old-Nigerian, fresh from "language" school in Yemen, complete with scary stuff in his file--if anyone had bothered to look at his file.   As an aside, it is not at all a bold prediction to prophesy that some Beltway heads will soon be rolling in the wake of NWA 253.

So what happens when you see things in Huntingtonian terms?   You conclude that this is going to be a long twilight struggle--if we're lucky.  Rollback and regime-change are fun for some to think about, but mostly counter-productive, as well as destructive, in practice.   Let’s face it: radical Muslims just aren’t that into us.

But for now, in 2010, the place to start is defense. We should begin, obviously, with much beefed-up homeland security, including El Al-style “terrorist profiling” at airports, but also including whatever high-tech devices we can invent--and we could invent them if we invested 1/100th as much in homeland-security tech as we invest in home-entertainment tech. We also need stronger military defense overall, including missile defense for us and our allies.

In addition, we need a defensive alliance, as we join with countries in Africa and Asia that live on what Huntington called "the bloody borders" of Islam and share our legitimate geopolitical concerns.   And finally, we need energy independence; we should be working toward that as part of a long-term plan for defunding jihad. If we are in a clash, we don’t give the people we are clashing with a trillion dollars a year.  

Admittedly, that’s a lot to ask for in 2010, but we’ve got some tough decades--or maybe centuries--ahead of us, and so we’d better get to work.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My answer to Politico Arena's question, "Is the 'Obama way' on terrorism working?"

If the "Obama way" were the "Chicago way"--as defined by Sean Connery in "The Untouchables"--then terrorists, as well as incompetent homeland security officials, would be sleeping with the fishes by now.   

Instead, the Obamans want to close Gitmo (send 'em back to Yemen, brilliant!).  And of course,  the O-people want to try Khaled Sheik Mohammed in New York City (Al Qaeda will be deeply moved by hearing their Miranda rights read to them).   So the "Obama way" is really the politically correct way, the ACLU way.   

Or maybe, as well, it's the Michael Brown way.   We all remember Brownie: the former FEMA chief who oversaw (not) the Katrina relief efforts four years ago.  As wits have been saying, Homeland Security secretary Janet  Napolitano's comment that "the system worked" will be ranked right up there with "Heckuva job, Brownie."  

A year into his presidency, Obama confronts a stark choice, even if his legal advisers, and the Justice Department, are trying to hide it from him.   PC never defeated terrorism.   Instead, terrorism always defeats PC.  And if you lose to the terrorists, you aren't going to win re-election.  

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Healthcare regulation vs. going with the flow.

Musing over the obvious similarities between Obamacare in 2009 and Clintoncare in 1993, I was musing further over the fact that Ira Magaziner, the principal architect of the sharing-of-scarcity 1993 plan, then moved over to the Internet, where he did a 180, creating a plan that I described, in a 1998 column, reproduced below, as "utterly libertarian... filled with phrases such as 'no new taxes' and 'industry self-regulation.'" Reflecting back on what I wrote 11 years ago, I might add that such pro-industry libertarianism was built on the foundation of pro-industry government activism. Where, after all, did the Internet come from? It was, of course, a government program. But Magaziner hit on exactly the right Hamiltonian formula: the government starts up something, then turns it over to the private sector.

The Los Angeles Times
July 22, 1998

The Chinese have a saying: If you wait by the bank of the river long enough, the bodies of all your enemies will go floating by. As Ira Magaziner, now in his fifth year in the Clinton White House, gazes out at the Potomac, he has yet to see the bodies of Speaker Newt Gingrich or any of the other House Republican leaders floating by–-but at the rate things are going, he soon will.

In the meantime, Magaziner has put forth an Internet policy paper, “A Framework for Global Electronic Commerce,” that is so utterly libertarian–-filled with phrases such as “no new taxes” and “industry self-regulation”--that this document could help the Democrats outbid the GOP for the support of high-tech entrepreneurs, as well as their cachet, and their cash.

Magaziner already holds a special place in the history of the Clinton Administration. He was principally responsible for the “Clintoncare” health plan that triggered the Democrats’ disastrous defeat in 1994, costing them their majorities in both houses of Congress. But President Clinton still kept his job. And with help from Dick Morris and John Huang, he made a roaring comeback two years later. Magaziner maintained a low profile during this period–-he wasn’t even mentioned in Morris’ memoir, Behind the Oval Office–-but beginning in 1996, he booted up his Internet project.

So now comes the Clinton high-tech offensive, seeking to love-bomb cyberpreneurs with laissez-faire. Of course, since Old Guard Democrats no longer have their committee chairmanships on Capitol Hill, Magaziner could write his “Framework” in a way that pleases New Agers, not New Dealers. In an interview, he was asked whether he saw any irony in his role as architect of health care socialization four years ago–-and yet as apostle of Internet liberation today. “I still believe that what we tried to do in health care was the right thing to do,” he said, explaining that “health care and the Internet are completely different.”

Well, maybe. But for generations, the Democrats have been the party pushing for more bureaucrats, not less. A Democratic presidency or two ago, the Johnson Administration filed suit to break up the two leading high-tech firms of that era, IBM and AT&T. Yet one doesn’t hear much talk nowadays about going after the “monopoly power” of Microsoft or Intel.

The Old Media underplayed the Magaziner plan when it was unveiled on July 1; The New York Times didn’t even cover the event. But the New Media was all over it, like a cursor on an icon. On CNET (, commentator Tim Clark referred to the plan as “a damn good start.” And one attendee at the White House ceremony, Sky Dayton, the 25-year old chairman of EarthLink, a Pasadena-based Internet service provider, trilled that the proposal was “a mandate for government to keep its hands off the Internet...It was pretty inspiring.”

What’s truly inspiring is the size of the industry that Magaziner & Co. want to seal off from government interference. International Data Corporation projects that “e-commerce” will rise from $2.6 billion last year to $220 billion in 2001. And even then, IDC estimates that fewer than 400 million people around the world will be wired–-just a few bytes out of the planetary apple, with its population of six billion.

Other Democrats, not typically thought of as pro-free enterprise, have jumped on the Magaziner bandwagon. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has proposed the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which would prohibit state and local taxes on the Net. This outrages the US Conference of Mayors, which argues that if e-commerce becomes a tax shelter, sales will be drained away from traditional retailing. Imagine: Democratic politicians favoring corporate moguls over big-city mayors.

Whatever happened to the GOP? Just two years ago, Gingrich gave a nationally televised speech in which he held up a computer chip and said that it represented the future, not only for the Republic, but for the Republicans. But today, with Gingrich watching his back more than the road ahead–-and with the Democratic party downsized to the point where its “paleo-liberal” wing can’t block presidential initiatives and with Vice President Gore, looking to 2000, now the toast of the techies–-Magaziner has a new perspective on the ebb and flow in Washington. “The last thing you want to do is have the government come in and regulate” he says happily, as the Democratic river rises.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

What Clausewitz would say about the Afghanistan war, from Fox Forum at

Reading through the depressing news coming out of Afghanistan, and wondering what to think about President Obama’s West Point speech on Tuesday night, I realized that I needed some expert help in making sense of it all. So I pulled out my ouija board and summoned up the ghost of the greatest military analyst and theoretician of all time, Carl Von Clausewitz. The famous Prussian died in 1831, but even today, his book, Vom Kriege (On War), is on the reading list of every military academy in the world. Why? Because the key concepts of strategy are timeless, and nobody put them down on paper better than Clausewitz.

Peering into the misty darkness, I heard a smart click of heels, and then… there he was. What do you say to a famous ghost? I started to tell him how much I enjoyed his book. He bowed politely, but, with typical Teutonic directness, said, “Mein Herr, please get right to the punkt. How may I help you?”

OK, I asked: What do you make of the war in Afghanistan? What do you make of the President?

“I have been following the news with interest,” he told me. “What a Zugwrack, oops, I mean, train wreck! Recent events illustrate some of my concepts, such as ‘friction’ and ‘the fog of war.’” He paused, then delivered his punchline: “And that’s just in your capital of Washington DC!” Who says Germans don’t have a sense of humor?

Continuing, he said, “As your Washington Post reported on Sunday, it has taken 94 days for your president to announce a decision on Afghan war policy; that is, more than three months, from the date of General McChrystal’s report, back on August 30, to the speech Tuesday night. By contrast, it took George W. Bush just 35 days to announce his new plan for a “surge” in Iraq; that is, from the Baker-Hamilton Report, issued on December 6, 2006, to Bush’s ‘New Way Forward’ speech, announcing the surge, which was delivered on January 10, 2007.”

So I guess that makes Bush look good, I ventured. 

“It makes Bush look decisive by comparison, that’s for sure. But what really matters,” Clausewitz continued, “is persistent and sustained clarity on the objective of the war. And that’s a matter of politics.”

Ja, Politik. Perhaps my most famous phrase is that ‘War is simply politics by other means.’ By that I meant, all war is a subset of politics. War can never be considered in isolation from its political purpose.”
It does seem strange, I ventured, that Obama is announcing the expansion of a war just days before he travels to Oslo to collect his Nobel Peace Prize.

A trace of a grim smile crossed Clausewitz’s face, “History is a feast of irony. In Valhalla, we have fun watching mortals criss-cross themselves in their own contradictions. In our time on earth, we did it, too, but now we have the perspective of eternity.”
And so I asked him: Back to politics: What do you think is the purpose of the Afghan war?

“The purpose of any war is to change the behavior of the enemy. War is, at bottom, a duel--a test of wills. That is, if you can’t destroy the enemy in toto, to the last man and boy, you have to convince the survivors to not only down their arms, but to think different thoughts about the future. They have to shift their thinking from war to peace. Otherwise, you haven’t achieved your purpose; you haven’t convinced the enemy to stop fighting. You haven’t won.

“In Afghanistan, you started out, eight years ago, to destroy Al Qaeda. You did that within a matter of weeks, back in 2001. But then you Americans developed a different concept, which was to establish a stable government in that country, even as Al Qaeda reconstituted itself in a different country, Pakistan. To use another one of my phrases, ‘the center of gravity’ of the conflict changed, from Afghanistan to Pakistan, even as you remained focused on Afghanistan. For political reasons, you couldn’t seek to eliminate Al Qaeda in Pakistan--a reminder, again, that war exists within the boundaries of politics.”

I could tell that he had thought about this; they must have good access to the news in Val “So you settled for aerial bombardment of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, which has been effective in killing a few leaders--but never the top leaders, such as Osama Bin Laden--and yet has riled up the population in ways that have destabilized both the Pakistan government and also the Afghan government.

“And then, of course, in 2003, you Americans changed the center of gravity of the conflict altogether, from ‘AfPak’ to Iraq. You can’t win anything if you don’t focus on it. So in the last eight years, while your enemy shifted from Afghanistan to Pakistan, your attention shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq. You had a bad case of ‘fog of war,‘ and consequently a loss of strategic momentum.”

OK, I said, but what do you think is happening now?

“Obama seems to be even more confused than Bush. Obama does not have a political outcome in mind for Afghanistan. The politics he seems to see are back in America--keeping his own left wing happy, while satisfying enough of the middle to win re-election. And that domestic focus jas caused blindness on the battlefront. He fired his first general, David McKiernan, and then he seemed surprised by the advice he got from the new general he himself picked, Stanley McChrystal--that is, to send more troops to Afghanistan. So he spent three months dithering, trying to figure out how to do ‘counter-terrorism,’ but not ‘counter-insurgency.’ Such attempted hairsplitting plays poorly in the international arena.

“Meanwhile, all the signals coming out of the administration seem to be that this surge will precede an eventual withdrawal. For months I’ve been seeing background discussion about “exit strategies” of various kinds. And more recently, such talk has come out into the open. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said on November 12, “We have been there for eight years, and we're not going to be there forever.” And then he added, speaking of new American forces, “It’s important to fully examine not just how we're going to get folks in but how we're going to get folks out.”

“And on ‘Meet the Press’ on November 15, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, ‘We’re not interested in staying in Afghanistan. We’re not interested in any long-term presence there.’”

Clausewitz paused for effect, before he started up again. “But the enemy is interested in staying there, there in Afghanistan--that’s where they live! That’s the territory they wish to hold! And so if they stay, still full of fight, and go, they win. Your Senator John McCain ‘nailed it,’ as you say, just a few days later: ‘History shows us that if you set dates for when you're going to leave, the enemy waits until you leave.’”

But, I noted, McCain got clobbered during the 2008 presidential when he said that the U.S. should stay in Iraq for 100 years.

“Ah, yes,” Clausewitz answered, “perhaps the domestic politics of such a statement were negative--there’s much to be said for, uh, circumspection--but McCain got the strategic politics exactly right. You communicate to the enemy that you will stay and fight as long as he will, so that the enemy sees no advantage in waiting you out.

“Instead, what message do you think Obama has sent to the Afghans and Pakistanis? They can see that the President is irresolute. They can see that the United States is not in this war for the long term. Will Americans be fighting in Afghanistan in ten years? Of course not.”

And so that tells the Afghans… what? I was afraid I already knew the answer.

“It tells the Afghans,” Clausewitz answered, “friend and foe, that America has more reach than grasp. It tells them that you are not the ‘strong horse’ in the region, as Bin Laden declared years ago. So the power arrangements that endure in Afghanistan will not be the ones brokered by the Americans, they will be brokered by the Afghans.”

But what if we win the battles over the next year or so, I asked weakly. Won’t that make a difference?

Clausewitz just smiled at me. “Who are you fighting in Afghanistan? Who you are fighting for? You don’t even know any more.”
Clausewitz could see my face fall.

“Look,” he continued, “an American officer, Col. Harry Summers, who had fought in your Vietnam war, had a meeting with a Vietnamese general after the fighting ended, and the North Vietnamese had swallowed up South Vietnam. The American said, ‘You never defeated us on the battlefield.’ To which the Vietnamese general answered, ‘That’s true, but irrelevant. You Americans won your battles and then left the country. We Vietnamese lost our battles, but we stayed in our country.’ The moral of that story is that he who survives and stands his ground--no matter how great the casualties-- is the one who wins in the end.”

So what should we Americans do?

“Well, for one thing, if you’re going to fight these wars, you should fight them to win--not just militarily, but also politically. Indeed, you must realize that the political framework, including international public opinion, is more important than anything else. Otherwise, perhaps you shouldn’t be fighting.”

That seemed like good advice. Anything else?

“My time is running short,” he said. “I have an appointment soon in Tehran, and then an appointment in Moscow, and then one in Beijing. One nice thing about being a ghost, I can go anywhere, and visit anyone. So my last words of advice to you are, ‘Read the book!’ After all, I dealt with these issues almost two centuries ago. And as someone else said, if you don’t learn from mistakes made by others, you will inevitably make them yourself. Now I really must go--Auf Wiedersehen.”

And with that Clausewitz was gone, leaving me alone in the gloom.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My answer to Politico's "Arena" question, "Has Obama bet his presidency on the NYC terror trial?"

It's not so much that Obama has bet his presidency on the outcome of the KSM terror trial, it's that Obama is betting his presidency on being more politically correct than George W. Bush. And that's risky, as all those p.c. pieties are now crashing down amidst an ongoing clash of civilizations, as shots and bombs go off in Fort Hood and Kabul--and all across the "bloody borders" of Islam, as the late Samuel Huntington described them.

But it was Bush, not Obama, who declared, back in 2001, that "Islam is peace." Such sentiments didn't keep the 43rd president from fighting in Iraq, of course, but as part of his liberation theory, he was required to believe that the only thing standing in between Muslims and loving America was a few bad-apple governments. Once Saddam Hussein et al. were gone, Bush believed, things would be fine; Christians, Muslims, and Jews would all get along, serene and secure in their respective democracies.

Such p.c. not only clouded our understanding of the world, it also seeped back into the home front; that's why all the rest of us had to take our shoes off when we got on airplanes. The obvious tools of good security, such as profiling, were off-limits in the Bush era, at least officially.

Needless to say, others in the Bush administration, such as Dick Cheney, were not on board for such p.c. pieties, but it was under Bush's reign that Admiral Mullen got to be chairman of the JCS under Bush 43, declaring that diversity was a "strategic priority," and Gen. Casey got to lead the Army, saying, in the wake of Fort Hood, that it would be a tragedy if we lost our diversity.

So Obama could have swept into power pushing a new broom, applying a neo-realist vision to the challenges of homeland security, as well as national security. After the Fort Hood shooting, he could have guided investigators to the obvious conclusion: that the policies that made America safe for Nidal Hasan were all implemented in the Bush 43 era or before, and that he, Obama, would make the necessary hardnosed changes to make Americans safer.

But that would have been too easy. Instead, our Nobel laureate president must prove that the cure for the ailments of p.c. is more p.c. Indeed, he is going to double down on Ivy League law-school legalism. And so yes, Obama is betting his presidency on the proposition that what America needs is another Warren Court, bringing the wondrous benefits of Miranda warnings to Al Qaeda and other civilization-clashers.

Friday, November 13, 2009

From Politico's "Arena" section this morning:

Putting your enemies on trial is what you do after you win your war. Not before. When you are fighting a war, you need to focus on winning, and there's nothing in Sun Tzu or Clausewitz about due process or right to counsel.

You don't put your enemies on trial during the war, when you have secrets that you want to keep. And you don't put your enemies on trial in New York City, the media hub of the planet, where every protest--to say nothing of any terrorist strike--will be amplified into eternity. (Such terrorist strikes might be "incomprehensible" to President Obama, as he said at Fort Hood earlier this week, but to most of us, the meaning of the attacks is plain enough--they don't like us, and they want to kill us.)

Are we now supposed to say that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and the other defendants are "innocent until proven guilty"? Do we now have to put "alleged" in front of everything? So it's OK to kill them without a trial in Pakistan, through drones, but if they survive, they can come to America and hang with Ron Kuby and the ghost of William Kunstler?

Indeed, you don't put the lawyers of the, uh, defendants in a place where they can go on TV every night to plead their case, to angle for a mistrial, hype book sales, and generally stir the pot, worldwide.

I thought that getting rid of White House lawyer Greg Craig was supposed to put an end to runaway ACLU-ish proceduralism in the Obama administration. But evidently, all the rest of the Obamans come out of the same Ivy League law school pod.

Attorney General Eric Holder seems determined to make Americans reconsider their 2008 electoral judgment on the presence of Republicans in the Justice Department.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

On the origin of conspiracy theories, from Politico's "Arena" section.

This is how populist conspiracy theories arise: The people see something, and call it the result of conspiracy, while the elites see the same thing, and call it something different--something more benign, or at least more random. Something that won’t rile up the folks.

But the masses will get riled up anyway, because they don’t trust their betters. And so out of that credibility gap, between the masses and their masters, conspiracy theories will flourish.

Most of the media coverage of the Fort Hood shooting, for example, seems scrupulously undecided between various possible explanations for the killer’s motives. Was he overstressed by his experiences at Walter Reed? Or was he a spontaneous jihadist? We might never know, say the chattering clases.

Well, here’s a bet: The American people will know in their own minds. They will conclude that the alleged shooter, Nidal Hasan, was some sort of sleeper terrorist. On Main Street, folks’ll figure that he was part of a sinister network that reaches back to the Middle East.

By conrast, President Obama and the governing caste will be at pains to discern no larger pattern, to draw no larger conclusion about America and the Islamic world. Out of a desire for order--and perhaps more than a little snobbery--they will be quick to label conspiracy theorists as mere paranoid ranters. And so the establishment will see no need for changes in immigration policy, security procedures, or ethnic profiling.

We have seen this conspiracy dynamic before, in the 40s and 50s, as America struggled to comprehend a vast new enemy. And we are seeing it again now. And oh, by the way, American politics changed substantially during that earlier era.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Reax on the election, from Politico's "Arena" section this morning:

So now we are seeing the limits of centrifugal politics. It takes Republicans to win big elections that stop Barack Obama in his tracks, not third-partiers.

As I wrote here at “Arena” last week, this year we have been going through a phase of “centrifugal politics”--things flying out from the core, toward the periphery. The core is the two party system, and the establishment in general. The periphery is anti-establishmentarian activists, empowered by the internet and an animating sense of free- radical rambunctiousness. Without a doubt, conservative and libertarian peripherals played a country-saving role this year, stopping Democratic momentum toward more spending, “cap-and-tax” legislation, and Obamacare.

But American politics, at its structural heart, is centripetal-- pulling things back toward the center. And at that center is a two- party system that has dominated American politics since the Civil War. Indeed, human nature is ultimately centripetal; after episodic flirtations with centrifugalism, people return to systems of order and stability.

The elections last night confirm this centripetal trope: The Conservative candidate in New York 23 lost, and the independent gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey fell down into single digits. So much for centrifugalism when and where it counts the most--on Election Day. Meanwhile, the Grand Old Party, centripetal beast that it is, scored huge wins, not only in New Jersey and Virginia, but also in secondary races--in Westchester, NY, for example, a Republican challenger landslided the three-term Democratic county executive out of office.

Obviously, for Republicans, there will inevitably be a night-of-the- long-knives-type score-settling after the NY 23 fiasco, as activists confront establishmentarians with the question, “What were you thinking when you gave a left-wing Republican nearly a million dollars in cash, and millions more in earned media, only to see her turn around and endorse the Democrat?”

But in the end, if conservatives and teapartiers want to win, they will have to restrain their centrifugal impulses and find their place within the stolidly centripetalist Republican Party. Activists can fight within the party, even take the party over, but they need to stay within it. Otherwise, they will win nothing.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

"The End of Liberalism"--a column of mine, published in The Los Angeles Times, September 21, 1993.

The point I made, 16 years ago, echoed the wisdom of the well-known political scientist Thoedore Lowi, who had written a book, The End of Liberalism, back in 1969, arguing that liberalism could not survive the complexity being imposed on it. Here's the text of my column:

The End of Liberalism

In what bids to be the defining event of his presidency, Bill Clinton laid out his "Big Offer" to the American people last night. Presidents who make sweeping change are remembered, for better or worse. Think of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, or Reaganomics.

Clinton's offer sounds good. "Security... Simplicity... Savings..." We'll hear the buzzwords over and over again: "By 1998, everyone is paying less" for health care, Ira Magaziner predicted last week. This week the Clintonians sweetened the pot further, moving the date upon which we all start getting more health care for less money up a year, to 1997.

If Clinton is to be another FDR, this had better work. But the biggest challenge he faces is the deep public skepticism that the government really is here to help us.

Theodore Lowi saw it coming. In 1969, he wrote The End of Liberalism, a far-reaching critique of the post-New Deal welfare state. Lowi, a former president of the American Political Science Association now at Cornell, is no conservative. He would describe himself as committed to real democracy, which he sees as threatened by the delegation of legitimate authority to the Iron Triangle of bureaucrats, lobbyists, and special interests.

As government grows bigger and bigger, Lowi argued, representative government will inevitably give way to the undemocratic rule of insiders. Think about it: how many Members of Congress actually read the 1000-page legislative phone books they vote for? They can barely lift them, let alone comprehend them. So elected officials turn to un-elected officials to explain, interpret, and implement the law with thousands more pages of legalese. It's like the Marx Brothers movie "A Day at the Races": you need a code book to interpret the code book.

Lowi coined the phrase "interest-group liberalism," to describe the bargaining and brokering among the Washington elites that has characterized American politics since the 30s. What we will get, Lowi prophesied, is "a crisis of public authority" leading to the "atrophy of institutions of popular control."

Assuming the Clinton plan passes, consider just some of the thousands of to-be-determined questions that lawyers and logrollers will resolve in the shadowland between K Street and Capitol Hill:

-- The famous One Page Form. If you don't ask questions, how do you keep people from ripping off the system? The Reaganites simplified banking regulation so much that the S&Ls made off with 12 zeroes worth of our money. So, does this mean we will all have a chance to play Charles Keating? Unlikely. The EZ form is the tip of the red tape iceberg. The Administration wants $2 billion to hire additional auditors and overseers to keep track of us.

-- Medical specialties. "Regional review boards" will allocate slots in medical school so that we get the politically correct ratio of general practitioners to specialists. Stay tuned for the story about how Senate Baron Robert Byrd (D-WV) and the multiculturalists have cut the ultimate deal: affirmative action and quotas enabling all West Virginians, from Bluefields to Bleckley, to attend medical school, so long as they promise not be plastic surgeons.

-- The National Health Board. This new regulatory agency, its members appointed by the president, will have responsibility for making the whole trillion-dollar operation work. "NHB" is an acronym to remember, because it will be in charge of everything from baseline budgets for the health alliances (adjusted to reflect regional variations, of course) to providing technical assistance to help dawdling states get up with the new program.

Ira Magaziner is a smart guy: maybe even a genius. But even the most brilliant have their limitations. One is reminded of the scene in the 1981 film "Body Heat," when crook Mickey Rourke discusses murder with crooked lawyer William Hurt. In this business, Rourke advises Hurt, there are 50 ways you can [expletive] up. If you're a genius, you can think of 25. And you, Rourke tells Hurt, ain't no genius. Magaziner is trying hard on our behalf, but it's hard to see how we will bat more than .500. That's a superb batting average in baseball, but not good enough when our lives are at stake.

If popular sovereignty is to mean anything, then sovereign power has to be understandable to the populace. Lowi's book is a restatement of the truism: the devil is in the details. A quarter century ago, he warned us that the details were drowning us. Today, it looks as if democracy is about to take another dunking.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lessons in partisanship. According to a new Fox News poll, released today, Democrats approve of the job that Barack Obama is doing in Afghanistan by a 64:20 margin. But they oppose the Afghanistan war--the war in which Obama is the commander-in-chief--by a 62:33 margin. In other words, while only 33 percent support the war, 64 percent support Obama. That's the difference that partisanship makes. Thirty one percent of democrats (64-33) support Obama as he does something, even if they don't support the thing itself.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Just posted "The Obama Health Care Order" at Serious Medicine Strategy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Just published this piece on Serious Medicine on The Washington Note.

Friday, July 10, 2009

An interesting post by Andrew Gelman on,demonstrating that the GOP is the middle class party.

That insight is full of implications for Republicans--think Silent Majority, and the politics thereof, which led Richard Nixon to two presidential victories--in spite of Nixon being Nixon.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Coming Collision

Gallup Says The American People Are Growing More Conservative. The Obama Administration Is Moving To the Left.

Even Democrats are growing more conservative, Gallup sez.

So which is going to give? The people, or their government?

Is Governor Deval Patrick a leading indicator for President Barack Obama? We shall see. The Boston Herald reports this morning that Tim Cahill, the Treasurer of Massachusetts, has re-registered as an independent, as he prepares to challenge the liberal incumbent governor in 2010.

Shades of 1978, when Ed King knocked off another "gentry Democrat," as Joel Kotkin calls them; that wasMichael Dukakis who lost the '78 Democratic primary to King, only to moderate and come back to win against King four years later.

Nationwide, people with names such as "Tim Cahill" are the swing voters, holding the key to 2012, as well as 2010.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Real Meaning of the Ricci Decision: Now the Middle Class Knows Who Its Friends Are

So now the middle-class majority in America knows who its friends are. The names of those friends are Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. And those five, of course, are the majority of the US Supreme Court, who ruled Monday in the case of Ricci v. DeStefano. That courageous quintet upheld the principle of color-blind meritocracy, defeating, at least for now, the much different vision of race-based quotas.

On the other side is the liberal foursome of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer, and David Souter. They voted against the interest of white and Hispanic firefighters who did well on a standardized test, an exam would have promoted them to lieutenant or captain within the New Haven, CT Fire Department. To put it another way, that liberal quartet voted for continuation of the sort of race-based policies and racialist politics that have given liberalism a bad name politically. Why? Because for more than 40 years, liberals have been so desperate to achieve their vision of “social justice” that they have sometimes been willing to cheat and lie about it. And even after they are caught by the voters, or the courts, they keep doing it.

That was the gist of Justice Alito’s opinion concurring with the majority, in which he asserted that the City of New Haven had resorted to “sabotage” to get its way in the New Haven 20 case. That’s a strong word, but it’s the correct word, because the mayor of New Haven, John DeStefano, and his city officials were willing to use legal tricks to sabotage the upward mobility of those 20 white and Hispanic firefighters.

Here’s the way Alito put it in his opinion:

But even the District Court admitted that “a jury could rationally infer that city officials worked behind the scenes to sabotage the promotional examinations because they knew that, were the exams certified, the Mayor would incur the wrath of [Rev. Boise] Kimber and other influential leaders of New Haven’s African-American community.

This admission finds ample support in the record. Reverend Boise Kimber . . . is a politically powerful New Haven pastor and a self-professed “kingmaker.” . . . He continues to call whites racist if they question his actions.

Who should rule America? “Activists” or the law? Obviously the Supreme Court was right to reject the sort of rancid politicized policymaking seen in New Haven. But the vote should have been 9:0, not 5:4.

So what does this decision mean for America in 2009?

The legal message is this: Wholly race-conscious remedies are illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. (Yes, of course, the whole point of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was to eliminate race-conscious remedies, but the liberal-left is still trying to use them, as part of its endless quest for “social justice.”)

And as for the political message? The answer is clear: The liberal pro-Obama segment of the legal elite does not mesh with the concerns of ordinary Americans, especially those who lack a college degree.

That is, the vision of America emanating from Ivy League law schools is that the elite should rule in the name of the “poor,” for the benefit of “victims” everywhere. And so while there’s much professed concern for the downtrodden, there is, in fact, much trodding down on ordinary people.

More broadly, Barack Obama’s presidency can be seen as a pincer movement on the middle class--so of course Obama’s lawyers were against the New Haven 20.

From the top, one of these pincers are the limousine liberals, concentrated on the east and west coasts, now hugely reinforced by trillions in bank-bailout money.

And from the bottom, the other pincer is what might be called “The ACORN Vote”--that is, the activist groups, which purport to speak for minorities, all of whom are now well-funded, thanks to the stimulus package. Together, they share a vision of left-liberalism triumphant: an enlarged state using its power to reward friends and cronies, ignoring the well-being of everyone else.

And so, in the middle, getting squeezed, is the middle class. You know, the people of all colors who work hard, pay their taxes, raise their kids, and play by the rules. They fight our wars, march in Fourth of July parades--and have no hope of getting a TARP bailout. All they expect is that others, too, will play fairly.

Those folks in the middle now know that they have five friends on the US Supreme Court--but only five. As for the rest of Washington, well, we will discover soon enough where they all line up. Whose side is Washington officialdom on? The side of merit? Or the side of entitlement? The side of justice? Or the side of injustice?

And yes, these are good questions to ask Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, who, in 2008 voted against the New Haven 20--and against the American Dream.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I have created a new website, devoted to health care, called Serious Medicine.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

Is "Obamboozled" a word? You know, a fusion of "Obama" and "bamboozled"?

You've been "bamboozled." That's the famous quote from Malcolm X, addressing fellow blacks in Harlem back in the 60s. The full quote, at least as it was recorded in Spike Lee's film "X," is:

"Every time you break the seal on that liquor bottle, that's a Government seal you're breaking! Oh, I say and I say it again, ya been had! Ya been took! Ya been hoodwinked! Bamboozled! Led astray! Run amok!"

Again, the key thing to remember is that this was Malcolm addressing his fellow blacks. Wake up, people! Quit with the drugs and alcohol.

And so I couldn't help but think of that quote when I saw this headline on the front page of The Washington Post this morning: "Recovery's Missing Ingredient: New Jobs/Experts Warn of A Long Dry Spell." Barack Obama has been bamboozled--bamboozled by an economic policy aimed at Wall Street, not Main Street--and certainly not Division Street.

Here's some of what the WaPo's Michael Fletcher had to say:

With many forecasters projecting unemployment to remain above 10 percent next year and not return to pre-recession levels of roughly 5 percent for years after that, Obama is likely to be confronted with defending the effectiveness of his economic policies as the nation endures its worst employment situation in a generation.

Analysts say the high levels of joblessness would be accompanied by increases in child poverty, strained government budgets, and black and Latino unemployment rates approaching 20 percent.

"I find it unfathomable that people are not horrified about what is going to happen," said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute. "I regard all this talk about how the recession is maybe going to end, all the talk about deficits and inflation, to be the equivalent of telling Americans, 'You are just going to have to tough it out.' But we're looking at persistent unemployment that is going to be extraordinarily damaging to many communities. There is a ton of pain in the pipeline."

As an aside, one can ask: What would the WP be saying if it were a Republican President in the White House?

In any case, as I wrote last week for USNews, Obama's solicitude for Wall Street has probably cost Obama his chance to enact a health care plan.

(The picture, btw, comes from a somewhat obscure Spike Lee movie from 2000.)

UPDATE: A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows increasing pessimismabout the economy.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Saturday, March 07, 2009

"Don't be Fooled--Obama Wants to Raise Everyone's Taxes."

Just posted it on Fox News' Fox Forum.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Here's my review of The Once and Future Reagan, a new documentary about the Gipper, presented by Newt and Callista Gingrich.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I have just unveiled the Business As Usual Index,my attempt to track the genuine change of the Obama era, in the realm of fiscal and governmental policy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"CDC Warns of Program Cuts"--that's the headline in Global Security Newswire this morning.

Does it get any clearer than that?

According to GSN, the Centers for Disease Control warns the rest of the federal government--and all of us--that progress has been made, but warns:

This progress, however, is threatened by prospects of reduced funding, the report says.

The federal public health agency might "have to make difficult decisions about what the highest priority activities are and what must be postponed," the report says. "Public health departments at state and local levels may have to make similar choices"

And this ominous graf below, which highlights the danger of a "dirty bomb," is taken directly from the CDC website:

The report, Public Health Preparedness: Strengthening CDC's Emergency Response, outlines CDC′s future preparedness priorities, including enhancing biosurveillance systems to support rapid detection of and response to emerging public health threats, increasing nationwide laboratory capacity to respond effectively after a radiological incident (such as a dirty bomb), and helping state and local health departments strengthen their emergency response capabilities.

Everybody knows that this is going to be a time of tough choices, and foregone priorities. But it's hard for me to believe that anyone in Washington--either in the Executive or Legislative branch--could read this CDC report and then seek out risky budget cuts.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Just posted, "Beam Us Up, Barack!" on the Fox News Fox Forum.

A humorous headline, but a serious topic:

The projected size of Barack Obama’s “stimulus package” is heading north, from hundreds of billions of dollars into the trillions. And the Obama program comes, of course, on top of the various Bush administration bailouts and commitments, estimated to run as high as $8.5 trillion.

Will this money be put to good use? That’s an important question for the new President, and an even more important question for America. The metric for all government spending ultimately comes down to a single query: What did you get for it?

If such spending was worth it, that’s great. If the country gets victory in war, or victory over economic catastrophe, well, obviously, it was worthwhile. The national interest should never be sacrificed on the altar of a balanced budget.

So let’s hope we get the most value possible for all that money--and all that red ink. Let’s hope we get a more prosperous nation and a cleaner earth. Let’s also hope we get a more secure population and a clear, strategic margin of safety for the United States. Yet how do we do all that?

There’s only one best way: Put space exploration at the center of the new stimulus package. That is, make space the spearhead rationale for the myriad technologies that will provide us with jobs, wealth, and vital knowhow in the future. By boldly going where no (hu)man has gone before, we will change life here on earth for the better.

To put it mildly, space was not high on the national agenda during 2008. But space and rocketry, broadly defined, are as important as ever. As Cold War arms-control theology fades, the practical value of missile defense--against superpowers, also against rogue states, such as Iran, and high-tech terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas--becomes increasingly obvious. Clearly Obama agrees; it’s the new President, after all, who will be keeping pro-missile defense Robert Gates on the job at the Pentagon.

The bipartisan reality is that if missile offense is on the rise, then missile defense is surely a good idea. That’s why increasing funding for missile defense engages the attention of leading military powers around the world. And more signs appear, too, that the new administration is in that same strategic defense groove. A January 2 story from Bloomberg News, headlined “Obama Moves to Counter China With Pentagon-NASA Link,” points the way. As reported by Demian McLean, the incoming Obama administration is looking to better coordinate DOD and NASA; that only makes sense: After all, the Pentagon’s space expenditures, $22 billion in fiscal year 2008, are almost a third more than NASA’s. So it’s logical, as well as economical, to streamline the national space effort.

That’s good news, but Obama has the opportunity to do more. Much more.

Throughout history, exploration has been a powerful strategic tool. Both Spain and Portugal turned themselves into superpowers in the 15th and 16th century through overseas expansion. By contrast, China, which at the time had a technological edge over the Iberian states, chose not to explore and was put on the defensive. Ultimately, as we all know, China’s retrograde policies pushed the Middle Kingdom into a half-millennium-long tailspin.

Further, we might consider the enormous advantages that England reaped by colonizing a large portion of the world. Not only did Britain’s empire generate wealth for the homeland, albeit often cruelly, but it also inspired technological development at home. And in the world wars of the 20th century, Britain’s colonies, past and present, gave the mother country the “strategic depth” it needed for victory.

For their part, the Chinese seem to have absorbed these geostrategic lessons. They are determined now to be big players in space, as a matter of national grand strategy, independent of economic cycles. In 2003, the People’s Republic of China powered its first man into space, becoming only the third country to do so. And then, more ominously, in 2007, China shot down one of their own weather satellites, just to prove that they had robust satellite-killing capacity.

Thus the US and all the other space powers are on notice: In any possible war, the Chinese have the capacity to “blind” our satellites. And now they plan to put a man on the moon in the next decade. “The moon landing is an extremely challenging and sophisticated task,” declared Wang Zhaoyao, a spokesman for China’s space program, in September, “and it is also a strategically important technological field.”

India, the other emerging Asian superpower, is paying close attention to its rival across the Himalayas. Back in June, The Washington Times ran this thought-provoking headline: “China, India hasten arms race in space/U.S. dominance challenged.” According to the Times report, India, possessor of an extensive civilian satellite program, means to keep up with emerging space threats from China, by any means necessary. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Deepak Kapoor said that his country must “optimize space applications for military purposes,” adding, “the Chinese space program is expanding at an exponentially rapid pace in both offensive and defensive content.” In other words, India, like every other country, must compete--because the dangerous competition is there, like it or not.

India and China have fought wars in the past; they obviously see “milspace” as another potential theater of operations. And of course, Japan, Russia, Brazil, and the European Union all have their own space programs.

Space exploration, despite all the bonhomie about scientific and economic benefit for the common good, has always been driven by strategic competition. Beyond mere macho “bragging rights” about being first, countries have understood that controlling the high ground, or the high frontier, is a vital military imperative. So we, as a nation, might further consider the value of space surveillance and missile defense. It’s hard to imagine any permanent peace deal in the Middle East, for example, that does not include, as an additional safeguard, a significant commitment to missile and rocket defense, overseen by impervious space satellites. So if the U.S. and Israel, for example, aren’t there yet, well, they need to get there.

Americans, who have often hoped that space would be a demilitarized preserve for peaceful cooperation, need to understand that space, populated by humans and their machines, will be no different from earth, populated by humans and their machines. That is, every virtue, and every evil, that is evident down here will also be evident up there. If there have been, and will continue to be, arms races on earth, then there will be arms races in space. As we have seen, other countries are moving into space in a big way--and they will continue to do so, whether or not the U.S. participates.

Meanwhile, in the nearer term, if the Bush administration’s “forward strategy of freedom”--the neoconservative idea that we would make America safe by transforming the rest of the world--is no longer an operative policy, then we will, inevitably, fall back on “defense” as the key idea for making America safe.

But in the short run, of course, the dominant issue is the economy. Aside from the sometimes inconvenient reality that national defense must always come first, the historical record shows that high-tech space work is good for the economy; the list of spinoffs from NASA, spanning the last half-century, is long and lucrative.

Moreover, a great way to guarantee that the bailout/stimulus money is well spent is to link it to a specific goal--a goal which will in turn impose discipline on the spenders. During the New Deal, for example, there were many accusations of malfeasance against FDR’s “alphabet soup” of agencies, and yet the tangible reality, in the 30s, was that things were actually getting done. Jobs were created, and, just as more important, enduring projects were being built; from post offices to Hoover Dam to the Tennessee Valley Authority, America was transformed.

Even into the 50s and 60s, the federal government was spending money on ambitious and successful projects. The space program was one, but so was the interstate highway program, as well as that new government startup, ARPANET.

Indeed, it could be argued that one reason the federal government has grown less competent and more flabby over the last 30 years is the relative lack of “hard” Hamiltonian programs--that is, nuts and bolts, cement and circuitry--to provide a sense of bottom-line rigor to the spending process.

And so, for example, if America were to succeed in building a space elevator --in its essence a 22,000-mile cable, operating like a pulley, dangling down from a stationary satellite, a concept first put forth in the late 19th century--that would be a major driver for economic growth. Japan has plans for just such a space elevator; aren’t we getting a little tired of losing high-tech economic competitions to the Japanese?
So a robust space program would not only help protect America; it would also strengthen our technological economy.

But there’s more. In the long run, space spending would be good for the environment. Here’s why:

History, as well as common sense, tells us that the overall environmental footprint of the human race rises alongside wealth. That’s why, for example, the average American produces five times as much carbon dioxide per year as the average person dwelling anywhere else on earth. Even homeless Americans, according to an MIT study--and even the most scrupulously green Americans--produce twice as much CO2, per person, as the rest of the world. Around the planet, per capita carbon dioxide emissions closely track per capita income.

A holistic understanding of homo sapiens in his environment will acknowledge the stubbornly acquisitive and accretive reality of human nature. And so a truly enlightened environmental policy will acknowledge another blunt reality: that if the carrying capacity of the earth is finite, then it makes sense, ultimately, to move some of the population of the earth elsewhere--into the infinity of space.

The ZPG and NPG advocates have their own ideas, of course, but they don’t seem to be popular in America, let alone the world. But in the no-limits infinity of space, there is plenty of room for diversity and political experimentation in the final frontier, just as there were multiple opportunities in centuries past in the New World. The main variable is developing space-traveling capacity to get up there--to the moon, Mars, and beyond--to see what’s possible.

Instead, the ultimately workable environmental plan--the ultimate vision for preserving the flora, the fauna, and the ice caps--is to move people, and their pollution, off this earth.

Indeed, space travel is surely the ultimate plan for the survival of our species, too. Eventually, through runaway WMD, or runaway pollution, or a stray asteroid, or some Murphy-esque piece of bad luck, we will learn that our dominion over this planet is fleeting. That’s when we will discover the grim true meaning of Fermi’s Paradox.

In various ways, humankind has always anticipated apocalypse. And so from Noah’s Ark to “Silent Running” to “Wall*E,” we have envisioned ways for us and all other creatures, great and small, to survive. The space program, stutteringly nascent as it might be, can be seen as a slow-groping understanding that lifeboat-style compartmentalization, on earth and in the heavens, is the key to species survival. It’s a Darwinian fitness test that we ought not to flunk.

Barack Obama, who has blazed so many trails in his life, can blaze still more, including a track to space, over the far horizon of the future. In so doing, he would be keeping faith with a figure that he in many ways resembles, John F. Kennedy. It was the 35th President who declared that not only would America go to the moon, but that we would lead the world into space.

As JFK put it so ringingly back in 1962:

The vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world's leading space-faring nation.

Today the 44th President must spend a lot of money to restore our prosperity, but he must spend it wisely. He must also keep America secure against encroaching threats, even as he must improve the environment in the face of a burgeoning global economy.

Accomplishing all these tasks is possible, but not easy. Yes, of course he will need new ideas, but he will also need familiar and proven ideas. One of the best is fostering and deploying profound new technology in pursuit of expansion and exploration.

The stars, one might hope, are aligning for just such a rendezvous with destiny.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

My answer to My answer to Politico's "Arena" section question this morning: what's the best & worst of the Bush presidency?

The best that I can say about George W. Bush's foreign policy is that he begs comparison to British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, who masterminded a Middle East foreign policy fiasco in 1956 that spelled the ruin of his government and the further decline of his country's power.

The worst that can be said about Bush's foreign policy is that he will be remembered alongside Kaiser Wilhelm II; as an impetuous young man--in Bush's case, though, not so young--who threw away a favorable system of alliances in pursuit of a failed military unilateralism.

As for economic policy, he seems to be sort of a cross between Ulysses Grant and Herbert Hoover, although he does get credit for stalling Kyoto-type rules, long enough, perhaps, for a critical mass of people to see the Canute-like foolishness of the whole effort.

But on the distinct and enduring upside, he appointed sound judges and he is personally a nice enough guy, and a good family man.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Das Bailout: My Conversation with Karl Marx, in The Huffington Post.