January 31, 2006

The Ice Cream Party and the Spinach Party: Three proposals to put a little pleasure back into our domestic politics. (Walter Russell Mead, 02/06/2006, Weekly Standard)

during the transit strike I used the time I saved from commuting to put together some proposals that met three criteria: Each had to be popular, practical, and consistent with conservative principles. Some are new, some are old, but all are ideas that, it seems to me, would benefit both the American people and the political party that proposed them.

THE FIRST IDEA, not surprisingly given my personal circumstances the other month, has to do with telecommuting. […]

Working with state and local governments and with business leaders, the federal government should encourage public and private enterprises to develop emergency plans that would allow as many workers as possible to work from their homes or from nearby satellite work sites during an emergency–and develop plans to protect the country’s telecommunications infrastructure as well. More than half the American workforce now has jobs that can be done from home at least in part; if public and private employers put emergency plans in place, we can significantly degrade the ability of terrorists to disrupt our lives. […]

HERE’S ANOTHER ICE CREAM IDEA. Maybe not on the same scale, but it’s something the government could do, and something most people would like quite a lot.

Let’s cut the transaction hassles and costs on residential real estate. For the large majority of American families, their homes are their largest investment. Building a national market in which people can freely and easily buy and sell homes has not only helped generations of Americans acquire property and learn about finance; it’s also contributed to the flexibility of the American economy by enabling people to move around the country in search of opportunity and jobs.

Yet as anybody who has tried it knows, there’s a lot of red tape and cost when it comes to buying or selling a house. Closing costs are mysterious, arcane, and to a large degree the consequence of an inefficient system that is often deliberately designed to provide comfortable niche livings for various otherwise useless professionals. The free market is taking care of some of these costs as banks keep losing loans to cheaper Internet lenders and as the competition among realtors leads to fee cutting. But there are plenty of costs that can only be cut with government pressure–to, for example, put title information into computer-searchable databases so that title searches and title insurance would cost pennies rather than hundreds of dollars.

This doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Congress could direct Fannie Mae to require gradual reductions in the fees and paperwork associated with conforming loans. States that adopted new and more efficient methods of title registry and deed conveyance could get some help from the federal government to modernize their systems. […]


There is no reason the government should try to prevent American families who value the traditional college experience from paying hundreds of thousands of dollars, but perhaps it could offer an alternative: a federally recognized national baccalaureate (or ‘national bac’) degree that students could earn by demonstrating competence and knowledge.

With input from employers, the Department of Education could develop standards in fields like English, the sciences, information technology, mathematics, and so on. Students would get certificates when they passed an exam in a given subject. These certificates could be used, like the Advanced Placement tests of the College Board, to reduce the number of courses students would need to graduate from a traditional college. And colleges that accepted federal funds could be required to award credits for them.

But the certificates would be good for something else as well. With enough certificates in the right subjects, students could get a national bac without going to college. Government agencies would accept the bac as the equivalent of a conventional bachelor’s degree; graduate schools and any organization receiving federal funds would also be required to accept it.

Subject exams calibrated to a national standard would give employers something they do not now have: assurance that a student has achieved a certain level of knowledge and skill.

Forget terrorists, telecommuting is pro-family and anti-gasoline.



January 30, 2006

The Surprise of History (Lee Harris, 30 Jan 2006, Tech Central Station)

[H]egel is arguing that as long as America still had a virtually unlimited frontier it would remain a land of opportunity, a place where those who were not content with their lot in life could simply pick up and move on to virgin soil, creating for themselves a new life that was almost entirely of their own making — which, of course, is exactly what many Americans were doing when Hegel wrote his lecture, and would continue to do for a long time after his death.

Because America had this convenient remedy for those who were dissatisfied with the status quo, there was no danger that those who were deeply dissatisfied with their position in the world would pose a political threat to the stability of the social order. Instead of rebelling against the status quo, they simply left it behind and went in search of a better life for themselves in the frontier — potential rebels became pioneers. “If the ancient forests of Germany still existed, the French Revolution would never have occurred. North America will be comparable with Europe only after the measureless space which this country affords is filled and its civil society begins to press in on itself.”

Hegel’s conclusion? “It is therefore not yet possible to draw any lessons from America as regards republican constitutions.”

It is hard to imagine a more sober statement than this, and one less full of moonshine and nonsense. Here Hegel is telling those who have made up their minds about the significance of the United States not to jump the gun — it is too early to say how its historical course will develop. It may be that America will prove that large scale republics are possible; but, on the other hand, it may not prove this at all. Only the future can decide this question.

In other words, not only does Hegel refrain from trying to predict the future himself, but he discourages it in others. Not only does he refuse to give “absolute answers” on the question of where history is headed, he rejects even tentative ones. In fact, all he is prepared to say is that a society that has a vast frontier available to it can afford a more libertarian and less centralized form of government than one that lacks such a frontier.

Curiously enough, those who are familiar with the American historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s famous Frontier Thesis will see that Hegel anticipated the basic logic of this thesis sixty years before Turner announced it. What might well have surprised Hegel is how short a time it would take to declare the American frontier closed.

Yet Hegel was quite prepared for history to surprise him. Unlike Marx, who did believe that history obeyed iron-clad laws similar to those scientific laws that governed the behavior of physical objects, Hegel recognized that the existence of human freedom, and the role of accident and chance, rendered all attempts to predict the future course of history futile and even dangerous. Again, unlike Marx who did believe that history would have an end, Hegel emphatically rejected such a notion. There would always be something to divide human beings, and hence there would always be a struggle between them, and out of this struggle would arise the phenomenon known as history.

The normally reliable Mr. Harris seems not to have taken Mr. Fukuyama’s point here. The argument is not that history will cease happening because it has reached its end–an obvious absurdity–but that in liberal democracy mankind has reached an End of History in the sense that the millennia long argument over what kind of state and society is the best has been decided dispositively in favor of liberal democracy:

The distant origins of the present volume lie in an article entitled “The End of History?” which I wrote for the journal The National Interest in the summer of 1989. In it, I argued that a remarkable consensus concerning the legitimacy of liberal democracy as a system of government had emerged throughout the world over the past few years, as it conquered rival ideologies like hereditary monarchy, fascism, and most recently communism. More than that, however, I argued that liberal democracy may constitute the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution” and the “final form of human government,” and as such constituted the “end of history.” That is, while earlier forms of government were characterised by grave defects and irrationalities that led to their eventual collapse, liberal democracy was arguably free from such fundamental internal contradictions. This was not to say that today’s stable democracies, like the United States, France, or Switzerland, were not without injustice or serious social problems. But these problems were ones of incomplete implementation of the twin principles of liberty and equality on which modern democracy is founded, rather than of flaws in the principles themselves. While some present-day countries might fail to achieve stable liberal democracy, and others might lapse back into other, more primitive forms of rule like theocracy or military dictatorship, the ideal of liberal democracy could not be improved on.

The more accurate argument against Mr. Fukuyama is that, like almost all neocons, he’s failed to understand the centrality of religion to human affairs and, therefore, not understood that for most countries the End will indeed be their end. That sad fact leaves plenty of tragic history to be played out, but can’t change the fundamental point that the Anglo-American Judeo-Christian Republic can not be too much improved upon.


January 30, 2006

Indonesia wins one in war on corruption (Bill Guerin, 1/31/06, Asia Times)

Indonesia has scored a major victory in the war on corruption after the return to the country of a crooked banker who fled before being sentenced in absentia to eight years in jail.

The US turned over fugitive David Nusa Wijaya to Indonesia on January 17 after he was located in Los Angeles four days earlier. The two countries do not have an extradition treaty. […]

Significantly, US assistance came less than a week after Washington praised Jakarta’s arrest of suspects in the 2002 murders of two American teachers in the province of Papua. The case was the main hurdle to restoring military ties between the two countries.

Once again, as with the Papua arrests, public statements confirm the strong relationship developing between Jakarta and Washington. “I am grateful to the friendly country that helped him [Wijaya] be brought to justice,” Yudhoyono said.

The US Embassy in Jakarta said in a statement: “The US government understands that returning fugitives and stolen assets from abroad in corruption cases is a top law-enforcement priority in Indonesia and looks forward to cooperating with Indonesia in other cases in the future.”


January 29, 2006

Libya to allow independent media (AFP, 1/27/06)

Libya said it is heading toward allowing private newspapers, radio and television news in what has been a state-controlled media environment for more than 30 years.

Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi’s son, Seif al-Islam, who also runs the Kadhafi Goodwill Foundation, was given the green light by his father to spearhead the plan though a new company.

“The first experimental program on one of the radio stations will take place in March,” said Abdel Salam al-Mushri, an official at the company, which is called “1/9” in reference to the September 1 date of the 1969 Libyan revolution.

“Preparations are underway to create a satellite television channel which will be launched in 2007,” he said.

The Colonel’s son seems to understand what’s necessary for reform as well as anyone in the Middle East.


January 29, 2006

Kuwait emir takes oath before MPs (BBC, 1/29/06)

It was the first time a Gulf ruler had been deposed by an elected body.

Legislators voted 64-0 on Sunday morning to appoint Sheikh Sabah, who is in his mid-70s and served as foreign minister for 40 years.

Analysts say he is a reformist minded statesman who has pushed ahead with enfranchising women and economic liberalisation.

The confirmation brings to an end a succession struggle within the ruling al-Sabah family following the death of Emir Jaber al-Ahmad in January.

A BBC correspondent in the Gulf says Kuwaitis watched in amazement as members of the ruling al-Sabah family quarrelled about the succession.


January 28, 2006

We must prefer Bush, Warts and all (Times of India)

For those painting Iran as a valuable Indian ally and heroic underdog whom India must support against US imperialism, we have news.

Iran has just declared bluntly that if the price of oil exceeds $80/barrel —something that looks certain in the foreseeable future — then Iran will renege on its agreement to supply India 5 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas per year.

This is not the act of a friend or ally, or even of a disinterested commercial supplier. It is the bullying tactic of an arrogant oil power using energy as a commercial and diplomatic weapon. […]

The Ahmedinejad regime that came to power after the LNG agreement was signed has constantly made excuses to avoid inking a formal contract. We now know why. The Ahmedinejad regime has proved irresponsible on more than one front, and cannot be regarded as a reliable supplier of energy. […]

India is indeed free to choose, but let nobody pretend that choices do not have consequences. Should India align itself with the mullahs or the US, warts and all? Only hare-brained ideologues would opt for the mullahs.

Even a nutbag like Saddam knew how to buy off France and Germany with oil.


January 28, 2006

The Realities of Exporting Democracy: A Year After Bush Recast Foreign Policy, Progress Remains Mixed (Peter Baker, January 25, 2006, Washington Post)

In the year since Bush redefined U.S. foreign policy in his second inaugural address to make the spread of democracy the nation’s primary mission, the clarion-call language has resonated in the dungeons and desolate corners of the world. But soaring rhetoric has often clashed with geopolitical reality and competing U.S. priorities.

While the administration has enjoyed notable success in promoting liberty in some places, it has applied the speech’s principles inconsistently in others, according to analysts, activists, diplomats and officials. Beyond its focus on Iraq, Washington has stepped up pressure on repressive regimes in countries such as Belarus, Burma and Zimbabwe — where the costs of a confrontation are minimal — while still gingerly dealing with China, Pakistan, Russia and other countries with strategic and trade significance.

In the Middle East, where the administration has centered its attention, it has promoted elections in the Palestinian territories such as today’s balloting for parliament, even as it directed money aimed at clandestinely preventing the radical Islamic group Hamas from winning. And although it has now suspended trade negotiations with Egypt, it did not publicly announce the move, nor has it cut the traditionally generous U.S. aid to Cairo.

“The glass is a quarter full, but we need more of it,” said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, a group that promotes democracy. “The administration deserves credit, but it’s just a start.”

In its annual survey ranking nations as free, partly free or not free, the group upgraded nine nations or territories in 2005 and downgraded four. Among those deemed freer were Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, where peaceful revolutions overthrew entrenched governments; Lebanon, where Syrian occupation troops were pressured to withdraw; and Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, where trailblazing elections were held. Overall, Freedom House concluded, “the past year was one of the most successful for freedom” since the survey began in 1972.

It took over two hundred years for us to liberalize Europe whereas it’s looking like it’ll take less than a decade to liberalize the Middle East. It’d be nice to get it done quicker, but you’d have to say the pace thus far is remarkable.


January 28, 2006

Catalonia Nears Autonomy From Spain: Region’s Plan for Self-Rule Seen as Alternative to Full Independence (John Ward Anderson, January 28, 2006, Washington Post)

They have their own language, their own culture, and a history of rebellion going back more than 500 years. They have had periods of semi-independence punctuated by brutal government crackdowns. They have a vibrant economy that is the envy of their country. And they’re determined to become their own nation.

It is a picture that fits any number of armed separatist movements around the world. Here, it describes a peaceful drive for more autonomy in the Spanish region of Catalonia, and it is nearing success with the backing of the country’s Socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Opponents say the plan for more self-rule is a Trojan horse, paving the way for full independence, striking at the foundation of Spain’s 28-year-old democracy and threatening to break up the country.

While the transnationalists alll dreamed of world government the reality is that states are just going to keep devolving into smaller units.

Premiers in hurry to craft fiscal deal (IAN URQUHART, 1/28/06, Toronto Star)

The phone lines are starting to burn up as premiers call each other and prime minister-designate Stephen Harper about striking a new deal that could dramatically alter Confederation by strengthening the provinces and reducing Ottawa’s role.

At issue is the nation’s “fiscal imbalance,” which sees Ottawa awash in surpluses while the provinces struggle to make ends meet. Paul Martin, the outgoing prime minister, denied the very existence of a fiscal imbalance; Harper, on the other hand, has promised to fix it.

In his election platform, Harper said he would “work with the provinces in order to achieve a long-term agreement which would address the issue of a fiscal imbalance in a permanent fashion.”


January 25, 2006

Pentagon Planning Document Leaves Iraq Out of Equation: A four-year blueprint for the military reflects a view that the war is an anomaly. There’s talk of robots and drones, but no force buildup. (Mark Mazzetti, January 24, 2006, LA Times)

The U.S. military has long been accused of always planning to fight its last war. But as the Pentagon assesses threats to national security over the next four years, a major blueprint being completed in the shadow of the Iraq war will do largely the opposite.

The military went into Iraq with a vision that a small, agile, and lightly armored force could win a quick preemptive war. Although the U.S. easily crushed Saddam Hussein’s army, the subsequent occupation has proven far costlier in lives, money and international standing than most expected.

As a result, the U.S. military has no appetite for another lengthy war of “regime change.”

And while some new lessons will be incorporated into the Pentagon review, the spending blueprint for the next four years will largely stick to the script Pentagon officials wrote before the Iraq war, according to those familiar with the nearly final document that will be presented to Congress in early February.

Iraq “is clearly a one-off,” said a Pentagon official who is working on the top-to-bottom study, known as the Quadrennial Defense Review. “There is certainly no intention to do it again.”

And here we thought neocons and the Left were the only ones who hadn’t figured out that W isn’t an imperialist.

US sets its sights on asymmetric warfare (Ehsan Ahrari , 1/26/06, Asia Times)

The QDR has four major goals: defeating terrorism, defending the homeland, influencing such nations as China that are at a “crossroads” in their world role, and preventing hostile states or actors from acquiring nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons (look out Iran!).

In terms of fighting terrorism, the focus is on increasing the size and enhancing the capabilities of the Special Forces. They will be expanded from 15 to 20 active-duty battalions. Ninety more “A teams” (12-man highly skilled teams to conduct special operations) will be created and be deployed in areas considered vulnerable to terrorist or extremist influences. The US military will also increase its capabilities on tracking and eliminating the “most valued military targets”, a euphemism for terrorist leaders. The US Air Force’s special-operations wing will create unmanned aerial drones to maintain endless watch on regions of the world with a high terrorist presence.

The QDR will also spend huge resources to prepare for “irregular”, “catastrophic” and “disruptive” attacks from insurgencies, or terrorist groups with biological weapons, or attacks on the information systems from countries such as China.

The Pentagon has long been aware that China is studying US information systems and developing countermeasures that are focused on its vulnerabilities. The Taiwan conflict has never diminished its significance as a highly contentious issue dividing China and the United States. Thus a great amount of attention and resources are being spent by the Department of Defense in nullifying whatever advantages the People’s Liberation Army might have acquired (ie, countering the countermeasures), which might be used in the event of a military conflict involving Taiwan.

As much as the US has remained focused on developing intricate high-tech defensive and offensive systems against the known capabilities of its potential adversaries, what befuddles China is the seemingly endless capacity of the US military to develop unique campaign plans to win conflicts. That nimbleness and dexterity remain the most valuable characteristic of the US military, a characteristic that is very hard to counter.


January 23, 2006

Redefining Sovereignty. Ed. by Orrin C. Judd. Mar. 2006. 520p. Smith & Kraus, $29.99 (Brendan Driscoll, Feb. 1, 2005, Booklist)

Editor Judd is the more prolific half of, a neoconservative blogsite as dedicated to providing up-to-the-minute political commentary as it is to skewering various works of the modern literary canon for being too socialistic (Dreiser), relativistic (Faulkner), or confusing (Joyce). In this book, Judd collects his own canon of opinionated experts on the topic of the future of national sovereignty. Aware that world political structures are evolving away from traditional Westphalian notions of the state, Judd fears “transnationalism,” the possibility that citizens’ rights will be infringed by international bureaucracy and their security achieved at the price of individual liberty. This timely issue will attract many readers. Those seeking robust debate will, however, be disappointed: Though some of this selection’s contributors (such as Kofi Annan) defend the spirit of international cooperation, the majority of the 30 excerpts (including those from Ronald Reagan, Walter Russell Mead, and several National Review commentators) boisterously celebrate American exceptionalism while shouting down isolationism and multilateralism alike. An argument disguised as a debate, this book will likely resonate with Judd’s many internet followers.

Neoconservative? Followers?

-PROFILE: Sovereignty Redefined (Edward B. Driscoll, Jr.,
11/03/2005, Tech Central Station)