Monday, January 31, 2005

In Baghdad one statue falls...another goes up: W

In this morning's NY Post:

January 30, 2005 -- BAGHDAD — The man replacing the mayor of Baghdad — who was assassinated for his pro-American loyalties — says he is not worried about his ties to Washington.

In fact, he'd like to erect a monument to honor President Bush in the middle of the city.
"We will build a statue for Bush," said Ali Fadel, the former provincial council chairman. "He is the symbol of freedom." [emphasis added]

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Bold Iraqi voters defy terrorists

Congratulations to the people of Iraq for their courage, bravery, and heroism under fire. Large numbers are flooding to the polls, defying the terrorists who seek to stop democracy.

And kudos to AP/ABC News for their coverage:

By MARIAM FAM Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press
Iraq Jan 30, 2005 — Iraqis danced and clapped with joy Sunday as they voted in their country's first free election in a half-century, defying insurgents who launched eight suicide bombings and mortar strikes at polling stations. The attacks killed at least 36 people. An Iraqi election official said that 72 percent of eligible Iraqi voters had turned out so far nationwide. The official, Adel al-Lami of the Independent Electoral Commission, offered no overall figures of the actual number of Iraqis who have voted to back up the claim.

If the 72% figure holds up, it will exceed the percentage of American voters in 2004.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

St Thomas Aquinas

Today is the feast day of St Thomas Aquinas--Aristotle's most influential expositor and a saint of the Catholic Church. In celebration, I'm posting this hymn as translated by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ:

Prayer of St Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274)

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Lost in these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart,
Lost, all lost in wonder, at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting, are in thee deceived.
How says trusty hearing, that shall be believed.
What God’s son hath told me, take for truth I do.
Truth himself speaks truly—or there’s nothing true.

On the cross thy Godhead made no sign to men;
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken.
Both are my confession, both are my belief;
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

Jesus, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I long for so.
Some day to gaze on thee, face to face in light,
And be blessed forever with thy glory’s sight.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

22 January 2005--the anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Number of deaths--and the cause
1.3 million--US abortion deaths in 2004 (est)
700,000--US heart disease deaths
560,000--US cancer deaths
107,000--US deaths in accidents
30,000--US suicides
20,000-US homicides
15-17,500--civilian deaths in Iraq since the beginning of the war
14,000--US AIDS/HIV deaths
1371--US military deaths in Iraq since the beginning of the war
59--death penalty executions in the US 2004

Previous abortion: 1975: 18% yes. 2000: 45% yes.
Illegitimacy rate: 1975: 24.5%. 2000: 44%

These give the basic bad news. Abortion is the leading cause of death in America--the key target in building a pro-life civilization, the deaths from this cause dwarfing suicide, homicide, AIDS, the war in Iraq or the death penalty.

Also: Abortion is fundamentally a means of birth control for the irresponsible: 44% have previously had one or more abortions. Abortion has encouraged the irresponsibility that leads to out of wedlock births: since abortion was legalized in 1973, illegitimacy far from dropping has sky rocketed.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Iraq: victory though democracy

I am one of those who has strongly support the need to go to war in Iraq. I expected a decision to turn toward the Iraqi theater from December of 2001, and strongly supported the key decisions that led to war in spring of 2003. While I have sometimes been disappointed in the management of postwar Iraqi policy, I have never waivered in my conviction that Iraq was the right war in the right place at the right time.

In the spring of 2004, as people were muttering about "exit strategy", I thought we needed to talk about "victory strategy". My belief was that we needed to do this: to put the decision to keep troops in Iraq before a referendum of the Iraqi people. I was convinced that a majority of Iraqis wanted to keep the Americans in Iraq as a defense against terrorism--and also some of their still-threatening neighbors. But the key point was that a referendum on American troops creates a win-win situation for the United States: if the Iraqis vote to send the troops home, that is a victory for democracy, and Americans can declare a democratic "mission accomplished". If the Iraqis vote to keep the troops--that too would be a devastating blow to terrorism in the Middle East. In either case, the decision to hold a referendum would be a crushing defeat for the forces of terrorism.

Precisely this policy is now being advocated in recent article by the Center for Strategic and Internation Studies.

I am consequently asking blogger--particularly bloggers from Iraq for comment on elections as a policy for deciding the future of American troops in Iraq.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Dr King on Natural Law

From the famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail (16 April 1963):

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just and there are unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that "An unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority, and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. To use the words of Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, segregation substitutes and "I-it" relationship for an "I-thou" relationship, and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. So segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Isn't segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? So I can urge men to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.(Bold face added)

Dr King was an ordained minister. He lead the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The biblical and theological bases of his crusade were never a secret. Nor were his theological goals a secret--he declared them openly to the world. Yet none of this made him a theocrat. His consistent message that the laws of the Southern man had to conform to the laws of God was not a call for theocracy but a call for justice.

Aristotle on Natural Law

Aristotle writes:

Particular law is that which each community lays down and applies to its own members: this is partly written and partly unwritten. Universal law is the law of Nature. For there really is, as every one to some extent divines, a natural justice and injustice that is binding on all men, even on those who have no association or covenant with each other. It is this that Sophocles' Antigone clearly means when she says that the burial of Polyneices was a just act in spite of the prohibition: she means that it was just by nature.

Not of to-day or yesterday it is,
But lives eternal: none can date its birth.

And so Empedocles, when he bids us kill no living creature, says that doing this is not just for some people while unjust for others,

Nay, but, an all-embracing law, through the realms of the sky
Unbroken it stretcheth, and over the earth's immensity.

--Aristotle's Rhetoric 1.13

Here we should note: this is Aristotle's Rhetoric--it's designed for public speakers in general and for those giving speeches in courts in particular. It's about the kinds of arguments that can successfully be used in courts, and how to make them. For Aristotle, appealing to natural law to nullify a particular law is part of the whole purpose of his discussion of natural law. It allows the oppressed to appeal for justice--not only against unjust leaders, but against unjust laws and unjust constitutions.

Aristotle goes on to tell those who appear in court:

If the written law tells against our case, clearly we must appeal to the universal law, and insist on its greater equity and justice. We must argue that the juror's oath "I will give my verdict according to honest opinion" means that one will not simply follow the letter of the written law. We must urge that the principles of equity are permanent and changeless, and that the universal law does not change either, for it is the law of nature, whereas written laws often do change. This is the bearing of the lines in Sophocles' Antigone, where Antigone pleads that in burying her brother she had broken Creon's law, but not the unwritten law:

Not of to-day or yesterday they are,
But live eternal: none can date their birth.
Nor would I fear the wrath of any man
And brave God's vengeance for defying these.

We shall argue that justice indeed is true and profitable, but that sham justice is not, and that consequently the written law is not, because it does not fulfil the true purpose of law. Or that justice is like silver, and must be assayed by the judges, if the genuine is to be distinguished from the counterfeit. Or that the better a man is, the more he will follow and abide by the unwritten law in preference to the written.
--Aristotle's Rhetoric 1.15

It should not take a great deal of imagination to see why such a legal philosophy would appeal to Justice Thomas--a son of the segregated South.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Theophobia and Justice Thomas--an Aristotelian view

Atrios is stirring up a small storm over a quotation attributed to Justice Thomas:
An Alabama SC justice claims, according to a Birmingham News reporter, that Clarence Thomas told him:

[A] judge should be evaluated by whether he faithfully upholds his oath to God, not to the people, to the state or to the Constitution.

The link originally came from a lawblog by Sam Heldman. Heldman, Atrios, et al, seem to think that that quotation, if accurate, proves that Justice Thomas is a theocrat.

1. Justice Thomas, in his confirmation hearings, made it clear that he is not a strict constructionist: rather he is a natural law theorist working within the Aristotelian/Thomistic tradition.
2. For strict constructionists, Brown vs Board of Education is a problem because banning segregation was clearly not a part of the original intent of the authors of the 14th amendment. For Thomas as a natural law theorist, segregation violates universal principles of human rights; hence the court was right to strike it down in the Brown ruling--regardless of the original intent of the framers.
3. Although I am not aware of any place where Justice Thomas draws out this conclusion, the logic of Thomas' understanding of natural law would have allowed the Supreme Court to strike down slavery even prior to its abolition under the 13th amendment on the grounds that slavery was contrary to natural law.
4. Without questioning him in detail, it is impossible to know what exactly Justice Thomas meant by saying that a judge's first duty is to God, but in light of his known affirmation of natural law theory, it is highly probable that things like #2,3 are what he has in mind. One may agree or disagree with this approach to the constitution, but it is scarcely theocracy.
5. In any case, the notion that one's first duty is to God is scarcely proof that one is a theocrat: one might well believe with Jefferson that one's duty to God requires the separation of Church and State: "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?" (Jefferson, Notes on Virginia 1782). For Jefferson, the very fact that human rights were a gift from God required the wall of separation between Church and State. This point is not merely antiquarian: in the case of Justice Thomas, said to be a practicing Catholic, I presume he thinks himself bound by Dignitatis Humanae (1965), which requires Catholics to uphold "THE RIGHT OF THE PERSON AND OF COMMUNITIES TO SOCIAL AND CIVIL FREEDOM IN MATTERS RELIGIOUS" (available at
6. The passion with which Atrios and 300 or so of his posters have leaped into this as possible proof that Justice Thomas is a theocrat is...sad. a) There was a time when you couldn't graduate with a liberal arts degree without having read extensively in Aristotle and St Thomas--the key architects of natural law theory. But that was before the decline of the academy into postmodern political correctness masquerading as education. Sigh. b) Whatever else one finds in the posts at Atrios, one won't find much tolerance: one finds instead all too much of the theophobia that helped lose the Democrats the last election. My liberal friends have been agonizing since 2 Nov 2004 over why they lost the election. The posts over at Atrios would be a good place to start.

W's Ownership Society...and Putin's

Could you ever imagine the day would come when tax rates would be lower in Russia than in America? A superb article documents how the US is falling behind the curve on the issue of economic freedom. (A hat-tip to the Club for Growth).

Key highlights: Putin now has businesses paying a 13% flat tax. Romania is at 16%, and Estonia is planning to cut to 20%.

Meanwhile: Ireland cut its corporate tax rate from 40% to 12% and went from 62% of per capita EU GDP in 1971 to 121% of per capita EU GDP in 2002.

The article helpfully highlights: a book co-authored by the prominent philosopher Thomas Nagel, The Myth of Ownership...arguing that there is no such thing as "pre-tax income." A reviewer at Amazon summarizes:

Without Uncle Sam to protect your stuff, you'd probably get mugged without hope of getting it back. Therefore you don't actually own it. I think most mafia dons think along these lines.

For Aristotle's view on property ownership, see the link on the sidebar.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Markets on 2008

Here are the current quotes from Intrade:

Leading GOP: bids
Bill Owens--13.0
Jeb Bush-----9.0

Leading Democratic: bids
J Edwards---7.4

Meanwhile, bids for which party wins the White House in 2008:

Friday, January 14, 2005

A soldier's critique of the press in Iraq

There is a classic post on the news coverage of Iraq at Blackfive. The sad part here is that the press thinks it is being patriotic. And the press likes to think that it is providing the antidote to Administration propaganda--a kind of penance for its failure to attack the WMD issue in the run-up to the war.

Eroding support for terrorism in Palestine?

Central to the Palestinian problem is the reality that a high percentage of Palestinians seek the destruction of the Jews--and support terrorism in order to achieve that goal.

Now comes a new poll that shows some signs of change in Palestinian opinion--from the Palestinian pollster/academic Prof. Khalil Shikaki:

Shikaki reported on the turnaround in Palestinian public opinion. There was a decline in support for the Islamic organizations, especially in the Gaza Strip, and an increase in the popularity of Fatah (Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza: from 38 percent in September 2004 to 24 percent in December; during that same period, Fatah surged ahead in all the territories from 29 percent to 40 percent).

For the first time in four years, his surveys have found a readiness for conciliation with Israel, optimism and a more positive approach to issues connected to the peace process. "We are now seeing things that seemed unthinkable six months ago," says the Shikaki, "in terms of how the public perceives issues of negotiations with Israel, the Israeli leadership and the willingness of the Israeli leadership to accept or to be a partner to the Palestinians."

Shikaki attributes this dramatic change, which he calls a "new reality," primarily to Arafat's death and to a lesser extent, Abu Mazen's resurrection. [boldface added]

One of his more interesting findings is this:
Most of the sample said that the intifada has harmed the Palestinians, yet
nevertheless two-thirds of the participants in the survey marked "Yes" next to
the question "Has the intifada been effective?"

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The War on Terror and the Deficit

Belmont Club has an excellent discussion of the debate over troop levels started by F Kagan over at the Weekly Standard. Kagan wants Rumsfeld removed, chiefly for not raising troop levels.

1. Rumsfeld needs the support of only one man to keep his job--W. Since he clearly has that support, it's not likely that this kind of criticism will get him fired.
2. If the problem is not enough troops, the Congress can increase US defence spending. W is not going to veto an increase in defence.
3. Rumsfeld's principal objection to an increase in troops appears to be budgetary: it will cost a lot.
4. The US is currently spending very little on defense relative to historic levels of defence as a percentage of GDP: under Jimmy Carter, defense spending ran just under 5% of GDP; under President Bush, it has run under 4%.
5. The deficit as a percentage of GDP under W is currently about 4%. But FDR/Truman spent vastly more than this to defeat Nazism. Here are the figures as a percentage of GNP for the key years:
Year Deficit Defense spending
1941: 4%----6%
1942: 14%--18%
1943: 30%--37%
1944: 23%--38%
1945: 22%--38%
1946: 7%---19%

Next to the amount of money spent after Pearl Harbor to win World War II, the amount of money spent after September 11th to win the War on Terrorism is strictly small change. The War on Terrorism ought not to be fought on the cheap. The US has to be prepared to spend whatever is necessary to win this war.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Kerry's 2008 campaign and the DNC

Further newsposts confirming that JFK is aiming at 2008 comes from TKS (citing The Hill):

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is vetting the leading candidates to be the next Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman, and asking them to remain neutral in the presidential selection process in 2008. It is the latest indication that Kerry is putting down markers to run again for the party’s presidential nomination in 2008.

Dean is said (by opposition candidates) to be the front-runner. Kerry has to be leery of Dean as DNC chair. But perhaps he thinks in a showdown Dean is more likely to help him than Hillary? I would love to be a fly-on-the-wall to hear Kerry knocking this one about with his aides.

Aristotle, arete, and the nation's schools.

CNN gives an update on the president's call for nationwide testing in high schools.

Teachers won't like this, and I don't blame them. As a teacher, the last thing I want is to have my performance evaluated by how well my students do on standardized tests. Until you actually do some teaching, it's difficult to appreciate how different two classes can be. You can be the same teacher in both classes, but get very different results depending on who the students are and how they react. For a teacher, it is a somewhat baffling experience to have the same curriculum, the same lectures, the same readings, the same tests--and get very different responses from two different classes.

And yet: without testing, there is no accountability. And without accountability, there can be no serious effort at the pursuit of excellence--what Aristotle and the Greeks called arete. At my college, I've tried to encourage more testing so that we can be clearer about exactly what we're doing and what kind of effect we're having on our students. To put it differently: the fact that I love teaching and work hard at it...doesn't mean that my students are learning anything. Alas.

The reality is is that standards have slipped badly in the USA. Colleges and universities are increasingly becoming glorified high schools to make up for the deficiencies of the incoming students. American high schools have little or no objective quality controls, and this means that there are no objective benchmarks to determine whether teaching is effective and whether any real learning is going on.

The next step is going to be the universities: the government funds an awful lot of education, but what students are learning and whether students are learning is a completely different story.

I sympathize with teachers who are fiercely opposed to standardized government testing. But the truth is: we need more of this.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Making Iraq Safe for Democracy

The NYT prints an important article by Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institution arguing for a delay of the Iraq vote. Diamond was asked by the Bush Administration to be a consultant for the CPA. Diamond told the CPA that a constitution based on proportional representation risked civil war; Diamond argued strongly that each district needed to elect its own representative: this was the only way to make sure the various groups in Iraq (Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish, etc) were adequately represented. Many otherwise pro-democracy Sunnis are now making the same point that Diamond made a year ago, and Diamond thinks they should be accomodated.

At present, the chances for a delay in the election look very small: both Bush and Allawi seem determined to press ahead, so the points raised by Diamond--as reasonable as they seem to me--are probably moot.

But it raises with me the whole issue of the CPA. It's not easy for an outsider to know what exactly happened in Iraq: but if I were asked to name the single biggest thing wrong with post-Saddam policy in Iraq, it would be the appointment of Jerry Bremer to head the CPA.

1. Bremer did not speak Arabic and had no expertise in either the region in general or Iraq in particular. A very bad move. It is true that Douglas MacArthur had similar limitations in post-war Japan, but the situations do not to me seem comparable. The head of CPA was a post that demanded the most detailed knowledge of Iraqi culture and history; to appoint someone with who couldn't even speak the language was a formula for disaster.
2. Bremer seems to have been gloriously incompetent as an administrator: the Marines quipped that CPA stood for "Can't provide anything."--a brutal summary of his administration by those who would know.
3. Bremer never seems to have appreciated the necessity of getting going on elections: the incessant delays led many Iraqis to conclude that the Americans had invaded for no other reason than to seize the oil; the longer Bremer delayed on setting a date for elections, the more legitimacy the Americans lost. Bremer's lethargy was a significant contributor to the spread of the insurgency.

I was opposed to the appointment of both Jay Garner and Jerry Bremer to CPA at the time the appointments were announced--principally on the basis of point 1 above, lack of expertise with Iraq. I'd be interested to see if anyone can provide a more cogent defense of the leadership of either.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Syria and the UN's credibility

In a recent article, former Israeli ambassador to the UN Dore Gold argues that the UN needs to confront Syria's support for terrorism..

Now it's all well and good for the UN to confront terrorism. But what happened to the US? One of the puzzles of the administration's handling of the Iraq war over the past two years has been its unwillingness to confront in any meaningful way the Syrian/Iranian support for the insurgency. Part of the announced goal of the American war in Iraq is to bring democracy to the region. That goal is deeply threatening to both Syria and Iraq, and their natural response has been to aid those seeking to defeat the US. Apart from vague warnings, the US has apparently done nothing substantial to deter Syria/Iran from continuing to support those who are making war on the US and the new Iraqi government. It's going to be difficult for the American battle for democracy to succeed if the US does not put an end to Syrian/Iranian intervention in Iraq.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Iraqi elections: can't tell the players w/o a scorecard!

I'm trying to get this down properly, relying on MEMRI at http://

Voters will vote for a "lists" of candidates, which involve coalitions of smaller parties.
1. Iraqi National Alliance: includes Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. Dr Hussein Shahristani, a nuclear physicist persecuted by Hussein, is likely the lead candidate for Prime Minister if this list wins.
2. The Kurdish List: a union of two Kurdish parties, the KDP and PUK.
3. The Iraqis: headed by the current PM Allawi.
4. The Iraqi (singular!): headed by the current President Ghazi al-Yawer; mainly backed by various tribal groups.
5. The Iraqi Communist Party: hey, certain things just never seem to quite go away!
6. The Iraqi Islamic Party: largely Sunni--I'm not clear if this party has dropped out and called for a postponement of the election since the date of this MEMRI post (31 Dec 2004).
7. The Constitutional Monarchy Movement--headed by Sherif Ali, the claimant to the Hashemite throne; he says 69% of Iraqis want restoration of the old monarchy, overthrown in 1958. We'll see.

And various other parties too small to be of much notice. All in all, this looks promising, at least in terms of lack of sentiment among leading parties for shariah law. The only leading list/party with strong leanings toward theocracy would seem to be the Iraqi Islamic Party--but I doubt that a largely Sunni party is going to win control of a 60% Shiite majority Iraq.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

JFK 2008

Here is the link to the recent Newsweek article on Kerry:

The key quotes:

He never quite came out and said it, but Kerry sounded very much like a man who was running for president again. He has a mailing list with 2.9 million names and an organization in every state. His moneymen have not backed away....Some of Kerry's followers are already plotting how Kerry can defeat Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses in 2008. The conventional wisdom, already congealing before Bush's second Inaugural, pictures Kerry and Clinton as the early Democratic front runners.

Exactly. JFK may lack other things, but not ambition: he wants to be president very badly, and he is determined to get it.

As for Kerry, says this adviser, "he thinks he's the front runner for '08 without recognizing that he needs to do some soul-searching. If he wants to come back, he'll have to come back as a different candidate, not the stiff who plays it safe and takes four sides of every issue."

So according to Kerry's own aides, the candidate is a flip-flopper who takes "four sides of every issue". Or perhaps the aide is condemning an excess of nuance?--regardless, it's a problem. And the aide also sees what some others see: JFK thinks he's the front runner, and is already focussed on 2008.

Kerry has tried to comfort and defend his wife, Teresa, who suffers from migraines and has taken personally widespread criticism (much of it by campaign staffers) of her role in the campaign.

JFK has a serious problem: a wife who loves the limelight and the attention of a campaign, but who hurts the campaign because she is seriously gaffe-prone--a problem apparently recognized by the JFK campaign team itself.

Jose Ferreira, Kerry's nephew, told his uncle, "Some people are saying that your candidacy was driven by ABB [Anything But Bush]." Kerry replied: "Do you think so?"

Ouch. Of course it's true. The whole strategy of KE 2004 was to avoid risk, make the election a referendum on the incumbent, and trust the American people to reject Bush. It failed because Bush had a popularity rating of about 53% among voters--not great, but enough to win re-election. That Kerry, in the aftermath of the death, can't see that that is the campaign he ran is remarkable. If Kerry lacks the political insight to understand his own campaign, it's difficult to see how he will understand that part of the country that lives outside of Massachusetts.

In sum: this is a candidate who lacks emotional intelligence--see my post earlier on Kerry, Aristotle, and emotional intelligence.

Aristotle's Ownership Society...and W's

Is Marx a "great thinker"? In terms of influence on world history--yes. In terms of the sophistication of his ideas--yes. In terms of accurate analysis of reality--Marx was about 2100 years behind the times. Aristotle in his Politics (Book II) had already explained why private ownership of property was essential for a just society. And much of planet earth has spent the last century and a half painfully learning why Aristotle (at least on this issue) was a step ahead of his revered teacher Plato.

But the world is catching on. The Wall Street Journal posts its economic freedom rankings--and for the first time the US has dropped out of the top ten (USA is at number 12). This is less because of regression under W than because other nations are moving rapidly ahead.

1 Hong Kong
2 Singapore
3 Luxembourg
4 Estonia
5 Ireland/New Zealand
7 United Kingdom
8 Denmark/Iceland
10 Australia
11 Chile
12 Switzerland/United States

Having spent much time in Britain, I'd sure like to know how Tony Blair's UK moved past President Bush's USA. But as much as I'd like to question the ranking, there must be something that the UK did to suggest this to the WSJ. The full article is here:

The WSJ writes: "Most alarming is the U.S.'s fiscal burden, which imposes high marginal tax rates for individuals and very high marginal corporate tax rates. In terms of corporate taxation as an element of economic freedom, the U.S. ranks a lowly 112th out of the 155 countries scored, and its top individual tax rate ranks only slightly better at 82nd. U.S. government expenditures as a share of GDP increased less in 2003 than in 2002, but the rise since 2001 is what explains the U.S.'s decline in score over the period."

W has his work cut out for him here. A generation ago much of the world heading down what von Hayek called "The Road to Serfdom". Now Estonia, Luxembourg, et al are moving ahead, and leaving the USA behind. It's time to get things together inWashington.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Democracy will win in Iraq

I've been telling everybody for some time that the turn-out for the Iraqi elections in January 2005 is going to be overwhelming: Shiites and Kurds will turn out at a higher rate than the Americans did in November 2004, and Sunni turn-out will also be impressive (though significantly lower). Remember that the American presidential election saw a 60% American voter turn-out. Now Baghdad Dweller gives a poll published today: 78% of those in Baghdad--where the governor has just been shot and the violence has been the worst--say they will turn out to vote:

Baghdad Dweller
Election poll from Al-sabah
January 5th, 2005

This poll was published in Al-Sabah newspaper showing that “terrorists” have failed to to dissuade Iraqis from votin, many be willing to take on the risks necessary to wrench back control of their nation. Even in a dangerous, quasi democratic election.

The poll was of 4974 Iraqis living in and around Baghdad.

The following is the translation of the poll and the results:

Will the security problems cause you to?
Not come out and vote the day of elections = 18.3%
Come out and vote the day of elections = 78.3%
No opinion = 3.4%

Do you support the Iraqi Government having its own official newspaper?
Yes = 67.7%
No = 30.9%
Do Not know = 1.4%?

Do you support military action against the terrorists?
Yes = 87.7 %
No = 11.1%
Don’t Know = 1.2%

Michael Moore: the paranoid style in American politics

Over at the Michael Moore website, the paranoia gets increasingly deep. Moore is convinced that W stole Ohio. He pleads for some US Senator to stand up and join Congressman John Conyers of Michigan in a challenge. In other words: the case for fraud has so little merit that even Senator Kerry won't take a stand for it. Perhaps JFK has been bought off by Halliburton?

UPDATE: According to the Corner at NRO, JFK sent out a letter today: "Tomorrow, members of Congress will meet to certify the results of the 2004 presidential election. I will not be taking part in a formal protest of the Ohio Electors." (Italics added) Is this proof positive that JFK has joined the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy?

Five for 2008

Over at the Weekly Standard Duncan Currie is looking at 5 for 2005--which reminds me that the 2008 presidential race is now under way.

No, it's not too late to start thinking about this. The British nominate a leader of the opposition, so one knows from the outset who the candidates in the next race for prime minister will be. As leader of the opposition, the country gets a chance to see how a candidate responds to the crises of the day. It can be very instructive, and a good test of leadership.

Although a bunch of names are circulating, the truth is the field (particularly on the Democratic side) is small:

1. Hillary. Of course, she's running. She's been running ever since 2000. She has 100% name recognition, widespread and intense support among Democrats, and a huge fundraising ability. Some Dems are already muttering that she's not electable. But her answer is going to be clear: W won because he scooped up women; his support from 2000 to 2004 went up 2% among men, but 5% among women. Her selling point will be that she will bring the women back into the fold. And she is laying the foundation to run as a moderate, not a liberal: there's a reason she has a seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee; and she's making immigration reform a key national security issue. Peggy Noonan has a good analysis: sooner or later, another terrorist strike will happen, and Hillary will then be positioned to claim she was right from start; Hillary can use the next national tragedy to position herself as tough on terror.

2. Kerry. JFK will take his second shot. Press reports list him with roughly $15 million left over from his 2004 run. That's not an accident. This is a man who has wanted to be president since he was 7, and the chances that he will make a second run are excellent. Count on him to position himself as a "real liberal" over against Hillary the Moderate.

1. John McCain. His extensive campaigning for W was more than party loyalty. His war credentials and his name recognition probably make him the front runner. I admire John McCain as a Senator and worry about him as a president: the Straight Talk Express? A president is a leader of a coalition, and leading a coalition requires diplomacy, not "straight talk". He's clearly succeeded in ticking off a large number of GOP conservatives who ought to be rallying to him. The GOP majority is a 51% majority, and it will become a minority if it is not carefully courted.
2. Rudy Giuliani. A brilliant mayor and a brave leader. He is almost certainly too New York and too socially liberal to win the GOP nomination. But he'll run a great campaign.
3. Jeb Bush. He says he's not running in 2008. My Florida contacts all say he's a better politician than his brother. Hmm: is it really his hurricane experience that has W sending him to the Asian tsunami relief? The knock on him is that he would be succeeding his brother. But the 2008 Dem nominee is about 70% sure to be Hillary: what will she say? She's against one family controlling the White House?

Right now the guess is Hillary vs McCain. The November 2004 poll says McCain would beat Hillary by about 50-40. It's a long way off, but for Democrats, 2008 looks very bleak indeed.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Democratic home base

Over at the Kerry Spot, Jim Geraghty picks up on an article by the American Prospect's Michael Lind. Lind claims that the only cities were the Democrats are strong are big cities with large black and immigrant populations.

But any look at the red/blue map will show a major exception: university towns. The heart of the Democratic coalition is its complete control over higher education: with faculty ratios running 30-1 Democratic over Republican today's Democratic party has a four-year opportunity to indoctrinate every young American who seeks a college education into liberal values.

More specifically: contemporary humanities departments are increasingly committed to a postmodern relativism that is deeply divided from both classical liberalism and the Western tradition.

Monday, January 03, 2005

W takes charge on the tsunami crisis

CNN reports:

Well done. As an American who has spent much of the last ten years living in Europe and Latin America, I'm not sure many Americans appreciate the extent to which the President of the United States is in a very real sense the President of the World. During the Cold War people often used to speak of the President as "the leader of the free world". There is a great story about RFK during his 1968 presidential campaign getting a phone call while in the shower. He threw a towel around his waste, barged wet and half-naked through the middle of a roomful of campaign aides, and cracked: "Make way for the future leader of the free world!"

With the collapse of the USSR, an American president is no longer the leader of the free world; he is the leader of one global community. When something like the recent tsunami hits, the world looks to the White House to do something about it. After some slowness, the White House has placed President Clinton and former President Bush in charge of raising funds. Well done.

Among the many relief agencies, see:

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Kofi Annan's UN...and Jacques Maritain's

The UN continues its nosedive. The latest is from the IHT:

Sad, tragic, and ugly. One doesn't know where to begin. Twentieth century American foreign policy was committed to international law and the building of international community--hence the near theological commitment first to the League of Nations, then to the UN. For an Aristotelian there is a special connection: Jacques Maritain, the brilliant French Thomistic philosopher, played a key role in the drafting of the UN Charter.

Meanwhile the US Congress has just begun to stick a shovel into the Augean stables of Kofi Annan's UN:

1. There is every reason at present to believe that Kofi and his son Kojo are simple thieves, profiteering off the Oil-for-Food program.
2. There is every reason to believe that key officials at the UN worked to interfere in the American election and defeat President Bush.
3. After attacking the US for stinginess in response to the tsunami, it now turns out that the UN has done almost nothing to get aid to the victims: what aid gets in is heavily dependent on the US military and USAID. (Hat tip to the team blogging at Diplomad).

We are dealing an institution discredited at every level and the first step toward change is cashiering Kofi Annan.

But the problems are deeper. Despite the loathing that the UN incites in some political circles in the US and elsewhere, the original vision of the UN was fundamentally sound: in a globally connected world, global cooperation is simply rational. The question is whether the UN still has a constructive role to play in that global cooperation.

Here the key issue was identified by Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the 1970s: the UN is all too often a collection of jackals, a motley group of dictatorial regimes whose policies stand in total contempt for the universal human rights that Maritain hoped ultimately to see prevail.

A good place to start reform would be to extend the democracy agenda to the UN, to stop treating dictatorships as the moral equivalent of democracies, to give dictatorships second-class status at the UN until they democratize. That would set off much howling among the jackals--but that wouldn't be a bad place to begin.

W won by outsmarting his opponents: Aristotle understood why

Daniel Goleman wrote a 1995 bestseller Emotional Intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ. The preface is titled: "Aristotle's Challenge", and it includes a citation from Aristotle to the effect that any fool can get angry--but to get angry at the right time for the right reason and in the right way takes intelligence. If you want to understand how W outsmarted Al Gore, John Kerry, and a whole bunch of other people, Goleman is the place to start.

In a nutshell: W probably never read Goleman, but he never needed to--Gore and Kerry needed to read Goleman but probably didn't.

1. We know that Gore had good SAT scores, substantially better than W's. But Gore dropped out of Vanderbilt Divinity school with bad grades while Dubya graduated from Harvard Business School. More to the point: after every debate with Dubya most Americans said Gore won the debate--and after every debate W's poll ratings went up. W knew how to connect with voters, and Gore didn't--which in the end left W with just enough votes to eke out an electoral vote win. In the line of one wag: Gore failed divinity school, journalism school, and finally the electoral college.

2. Less well-known is that W seems to have outscored Kerry on the military intelligence tests--and done substantially better than Kerry on leadership qualities. St Paul laid down rule 1 for leadership: if the trumpet sound an uncertain call, who will prepare for battle? Whether one agreed or disagreed with President Bush, he sounded a clear and consistent message about promoting democracy in order to defeat terrorism. As for Senator Kerry: his position on Iraq shifted from week to week with his "I voted for it before I voted against it" as the signature line of his campaign. The 2004 exit polls were damning: When asked whether they trusted George Bush to handle terrorism, a plurality of voters in every state said yes; when asked whether they trusted John Kerry to handle terrorism, the only two states with a plurality of voters saying yes were Massachusetts and Maryland.

3. UK newspapers lamented after 2 Nov 2004 over how dumb the Americans were to re-elect Dubya. For a good definition of dumb, one might look at the UK Guardian's crusade to change minds in Ohio. First, it doesn't seem to have occurred to the self-styled intellectuals at the Guardian that Ohioans might resent foreign interference in the election. Second, the articles that the Guardian posted to change the minds of Ohio voters were, well, brain-dead. Case in point was the University of Oxford's Richard Dawkins, famous evolutionist and brilliant writer: he told Ohioans that while assasinating Bush wasn't yet justifiable, democratic expulsion was. Dawkins' letter was a perfect illustration of the Goleman/Aristotle point: Dawkins would register high in IQ, but near-zero on emotional intelligence--as would Dawkins' editors at the Guardian.

4. Michael Moore. Author of Stupid White Men. Moore was certainly right about at least one white man: Moore can take a good share of the credit for electing Bush twice. In 2000, he campaigned in Florida for Ralph Nader. Oops. In 2004, he contributed Fahrenheit 9/11. His star turn in Jimmy Carter's presidential box during the Democratic 2004 convention was a visual highlight: Kerry got the smallest bounce out of his convention of any Democratic nominee since George McGovern in 1972.

5. The Washington Democratic leadership. They turned out en masse for Fahrenheit 9/11, and gave it standing ovation. The result: the Democrats lose more Senate seats. Question: why did Democratic party leaders think they could cheer a movie in which Moore likens Iraqi terrorists to the Minutemen?

6. Michael Barone wrote an election wrap-up column under the general theme: Love is stronger than Hate. The Democrats--and much of the world press--launched a hate campaign of massive proportions against President Bush with Fahrenheit 9/11 as perhaps the most vicious attack ever made against a sitting president. That campaign failed. As Patrick Ruffini has pointed out: the 10 states with the biggest percentage increase in voter turnout all voted for W. And more: Bush voters overwhelmingly said their vote was a vote for the president, rather than merely a vote against Senator Kerry.

Bush-hatred failed the basic Aristotelian test of knowing how to get angry and when and why. It's one of many ways that President Bush outsmarted his adversaries.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Rorty and postmodern relativism

This is the review I mentioned previously from Rorty.

It is vintage Rorty: elegant, well-written...and deeply troubling for any democrat.

1. Rorty thinks we can get rid of the correspondence theory of truth. To translate for non-philosophers: The correspondence theory requires the real world to agree with the sentence in order for the sentence to be true. If President Bush says Iraq has WMDs, and it doesn't, then he's in trouble according to the correspondence theory of truth. But if you reject the correspondence theory, then perhaps it doesn't really matter if there aren't any WMDs. The Nation can only criticize the President on WMDs if the correspondence theory is correct. If the correspondence theory is not correct, then the 8th Commandment "thou shalt not bear false witness" doesn't seem to apply anymore to postmodern democracy.

2. Rorty is very clear that he thinks Jefferson is wrong about democracy: "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?" (Jefferson, Notes on Virginia 1782). For Rorty, democracy can survive quite well without any basis in the laws of God.

Whatever one thinks on this, the American Republic has never tried to test Jefferson to see if he is wrong: since 1776 the vast majority of Americans have held to the belief that their liberites come from God. It was for that reason that JFK in 1961 had no hesitation about seeing this as one of the central points that divided democracy from communism. Hence the historical could reasonably cited as supporting Jefferson over Rorty: the only societies to have been explicitly based on a rejection of God have not exactly been models of democracy.

Aristotle's God and the public forum

Over at The National Review Ramesh Ponnuru (did I spell that correctly?) takes a look at some current efforts to rule discussion of God of out place in public life. The full article is only available to subscribers--but the key point that I would like to pick up is relatively short.

RP cites Peter Beinart over at The New Republic: the problem with appeals to God is that they are private, and can't be discussed as appeals to reason in a public forum.

1. Question: does this exclude the Declaration of Independence as valid public reasoning?--"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights?"

2. The key point here is the dramatic shift in the understanding of reason that has taken place in many Western universities over the last generation. Jefferson and the authors of the Declaration of Independence were still working within a framework ultimately descended from Aristotle: God was seen to be key tenet of critical reason and essential to explain the order in the cosmos. As late as JFK's inaugural address in 1961 this was still uncontroversial in public forums. The full citation is worth a look:

"Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens, we observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom—symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning—signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.
"The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God."

So in 1961, John F. Kennedy could still say in public that the Cold War was a clash between those who thought human rights came from the state--and those who thought human rights came from God. By the time of the early Reagan administration, a similar comment from Secretary of State Alexander Haig brought derision and scorn from the Washington press corps.

3. What Beinart and others want to do is uphold the First Amendment: no establishment of religion. Well and good. But what is missed is this: for the founding fathers, the existence of God was a fact amply attested by both philosophy and science. Religion was how you worshipped that God. There was therefore no contradiction for Thomas Jefferson in affirming separation of church and state in Virginia, and writing a Declaration of Independence that plainly states that human rights depend on a creator-god. The notion that references to God somehow violate the non-establishment clause of the First Amendment are based on a mistake in history.

4. Of course, much postmodern philosophy is based on a root and branch rejection of Aristotle: for postmodern relativists, God is dead, his existence is unprovable--and not even philosophically interesting. But what is interesting is that in the process of killing off God, postmodern relativism has killed off reason along with it. Postmodern relativists deny not only the existence of God, but the validity of human reason. Some years ago, Francis Schaeffer summed this up perfectly in a book titled: Escape From Reason; Schaeffer had read Foucault, and had identified exactly the trend of postmodern thought.

5. The point here--which I hope to discuss in more depth in later posts--is that today everything has come full circle. Aristotle saw clearly that God and reason were tightly bound together. The unraveling begins with Kant in the 1780s; and there is reason to think that the decisive move took place with Darwin--it would take longer to move from philosophy departments to public officials. But the key is this: for Aristotle and classical philosophy, God and reason were paired. The Enlightenment project tried to eliminate God in the name of reason; the result was the Postmodern project of eliminating reason itself.

6. Over at The Nation Richard Rorty has not been unaware of the issue. As a key figure in contemporary postmodernism, he has been sensitive to the charge that postmodernism's rejection of reason runs the risk of fascism.

7. But this basic point--that philosophical reason and the existence of God are historically bound together--overturns the myth of history common in much current public thought. For a whole generation of today's thinkers, reason is something you preserve by eliminating God--which is a form of irrationalism, and based on blind faith. For them, the story of history is the story of reason, triumphing over faith, bigotry, and irrationality. That this myth of history has little to do with any of the real history of Western civilization will be the focus of later posts.