Friday, November 30, 2007

Our Petroleum Future: Better Than You Thought

This post is a follow up to my ticklish post on "The Ethanol Bust."

Readers may recall that the market for corn-based alternatives fuels is collapsing (the Wall Street Journal's article
is here). This might seem kind of strange, when world oil prices are currently hovering around $90 a barrel. One might think that demand for oil would decline amid peak prices, and alternatives to fossil fuels would be enjoy increased attention. This doesn't appear to be happening.

Now, I'm no economist, but I've been
an energy optimist amid all the recent doom and gloom over environmental depletion and global warming.

With that introduction, check out the November/December 2007 issue of Foreign Policy and it's hip contrarian piece by Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran, "
Think Again: Oil" (by subscription):

Is the world running out of oil?

Hardly. The world has more proven reserves of oil today than it did three decades ago, according to official estimates. Despite years of oil guzzling and countless doomsday predictions, the world is simply not running out of oil. It is running into it. Oil is of course a nonrenewable resource and so, by definition, it will run dry some day. But that day is not upon us, despite the fact that a growing chorus of “depletionists” argue that we’ve already reached the global peak of oil production. Their view, however, imagines the global resource base in oil as fixed, and technology as static. In fact, neither assumption is true. Innovative firms are investing in ever better technologies for oil exploration and production, pushing back the oil peak further and further.

The key is understanding the role of scarcity, price signals, and future technological innovation in bringing the world’s vast remaining hydrocarbon reserves to market. Thanks to advances in technology, the average global oil recovery rate from reservoirs has grown from about 20 percent for much of the 20th century to around 35 percent today. That is an admirable improvement. But it also means that two thirds of the oil known to exist in any given reservoir is still left untapped.

The best rebuttal to the depletionists’ case lies in the world’s immense stores of “unconventional” hydrocarbons. These deposits of shale, tar sands, and heavy oil can be converted to fuel that could power today’s ordinary automobiles. Canada, for example, has deposits of tar sands with greater energy content than all the oil in Saudi Arabia. China, the United States, Venezuela, and others also have large deposits of these energy sources. The problem is that the conversion comes at a much greater environmental and economic cost than conventional crude oil. But the very same high oil prices that doomsters claim are a sign of imminent depletion also provide a powerful incentive for the development of these mucky deposits—and for the technology that will allow us to extract them in a cleaner fashion.
How about these high gas prices? Here to stay?

Don’t bet on it. High oil prices are the result of short-term mismatches between supply and demand, a relationship seen in all commodity markets. All it takes is another global economic hiccup like the Asian financial crisis for oil markets to shift out of balance, leading prices to soften or worse, just as they did in 1997.

The key variable to watch is the spare oil production capacity maintained by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cartel. For much of the past three decades, OPEC has been capable of pumping far more oil than it actually delivered to market, which helped it manage prices. In particular, Saudi Arabia used its cushion to act as a swing producer, flooding the market with its buffer supply when normal global output was disrupted, such as during the Iran-Iraq War and the first Gulf War. The price increases that have occurred with regularity during the past several years are chiefly the result of the Saudis’ allowing their buffer capacity to fall during the 1990s and the global failure to anticipate the growth in Chinese oil imports. To address the increased demand, the Saudis are spending tens of billions of dollars rebuilding their spare capacity, and an unprecedented wave of new oil—the result of investments made a decade ago—is now coming online in Russia, the Caspian, and West Africa.

If supply in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere surges, or if demand, particularly in China, falters, then the new price floor that many investors assume is permanent will look increasingly shaky. OPEC will, of course, seek to stabilize prices if other oil producers (or oil alternatives, for that matter) take off. But history suggests that the cartel cannot maintain perfect production discipline. Inevitably, some greedy members defy the leadership and cheat on their quotas, again undermining the future of sky-high prices.
How about the "Big Oil"? Are we being gouged by the petroleum giants?

Actually, no. Whenever the cost of a gallon at American gasoline pumps shoots up, politicians and energy activists claim oil companies like ExxonMobil and BP are fixing prices. Big Oil may appear all-powerful to the consumer, but in reality the major private-sector energy companies with the famous brand names are powerless compared with the OPEC goliaths.

The issue again is supply and demand. Unlike during the 1970s oil shocks, when most oil was sold through bilateral contracts, much of the world’s petroleum today is sold through sophisticated and highly liquid futures markets, such as the New York Mercantile Exchange. It is therefore difficult for firms to manipulate prices. And when there are suspicions of back-room dealings, market watchdogs step in.

It is true that the oil market is far from unfettered, distorted as it is by a host of subsidies and handouts. It is also true that a conspiratorial cabal does meet regularly behind closed doors to rig prices and supply. However, that cabal is not Big Oil. It is OPEC. Saudi Aramco, a charter member, holds 20 times the oil reserves of ExxonMobil, the biggest of the private-sector majors. In other words, the Western firms are price takers, not price setters.

In fact, despite the current spate of record profits, Big Oil is in big trouble. Oil-rich countries, such as Venezuela and Russia, are nationalizing their resources, just as Saudi Arabia and Iran once did. That means most of the world’s reserves, and all of the cheap or easily accessed oil sources, are no longer available to the major private companies. The Western oil firms are running out of their primary product, even though the world at large is not. And that is a development that could ultimately hurt consumers, because Big Oil is the only counterweight to OPEC we have.
Now, this query's the best: What about hybrid automobiles? Will hybrids save the planet?

Not quite. Imagine a world in which 100 percent of cars are gasoline-hybrids like the Toyota Prius, and you still have a world that is 100 percent addicted to oil. A partial move toward alternative fuels won’t ever be enough; the future actually calls for a radical shift in both new fuels and engine technologies. Condemning SUVs as environmental menaces misses the central problem: It’s not the size of the car that matters—it’s the fuel it burns. This year, two thirds of U.S. oil consumption—and half of global oil consumption—will be sucked up by cars and trucks. Reinventing the car is the only serious way to wean the world off oil. The advanced electronics found in the Prius are but the first, helpful step in the clean-car revolution now getting under way.

From Silicon Valley to Shanghai, inventors, entrepreneurs, and environmentalists are zooming ahead of Big Oil and Detroit. Today, it’s far easier for new start-ups to challenge the major automakers because key technologies are no longer jealously guarded in-house but outsourced around the world. While the auto dinosaurs dawdle, giants from other industries are investing millions to stake a place in the game. In fact, the car of the future may well be brought to you by Sony, Apple, or Intel. Perhaps it will even come from two teenage whiz kids working tirelessly in their garage on the Next Big Thing. What’s certain is that its day is near.
Vaitheeswaran's pragmatic in his conclusion. We can't live on black gold forever. There's a role for investment in new technologies, and political leaders can spur innovation with policies designed to level the playing field for new market entrants.

(I drive a
Honda Civic, by the way, a vehicle that ranges around 30 MPG on the highway. Some analysts of hybrid technologies have argued that the fuel economy advantage of driving a Toyota Prius is neutralized on the freeway, when the electric motor component's not kicking-in to propel the vehicle. Driving a hybrid's a environmental fashion statement, an indicator that hybrid owners probably aren't economists themselves.)

Democrats Can't Get Things Right on Iraq

Victor Davis Hanson argues today that the ups and downs of the Iraq war have forced the Democrats to make a tough decision: First they were for the war, now they're against it; will success on the ground force them to flip their position one more time? Will it work for them if they do?

We can learn a lot about ourselves from the looking glass of Iraq.

American losses in November were 36 dead — the lowest of any November of the war. Once violent places like Fallujah and Ramadi are now quiet. Whatever is happening in Iraq — reasonable people can differ over the prognosis — all agree that the violence is abating at an astonishing rate.

Oil revenues are at all-time high with $98-a-barrel oil. The Sunni insurgency is not just tired, but tired of losing to the American military and being exploited by al-Qaeda in the bargain. Since bad news alone is news from Iraq, there is now very little about the war on our front pages or the evening network lead-ins.

But as House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D., S.C.) presciently warned last July, such good news could present a “problem” for antiwar Democrats. And now it has.

They invested in the failure of the surge, having successfully tapped into widespread public unhappiness over the absence of prior clear-cut victory. Some change in their position is now on the horizon and it won’t be the first time Democrats have had to adjust en masse.

Most in the party voted in October 2002 to authorize George Bush to remove Saddam Hussein. Why exactly did the present group of antiwar Democrats line up for the war? Was it just legitimate fears of weapons of mass destruction, or the other twenty-some congressional writs they passed as casus belli and haven’t changed a bit?

Perhaps — but they were also still giddy over the unexpected seven-week defeat of the Taliban, and the inspired efforts to fashion an Interim Transitional Administration, with the suave Hamid Karzai as its president.

Because we had already defeated Saddam in 1991, and since pundits had proclaimed that a secular Iraq would be more malleable to reconstruction than a primordial Afghanistan of warlords, Democrats signed on for another war that might prove even easier to wage and quicker to win. Support for an easy victory in Iraq would only further confirm their reputation of being tough on national security in a post-9/11 world.

When — in the manner of Sen. Clinton — they warned that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and was connected to al-Qaeda, they were only reiterating the standard Bill Clinton line throughout much of the 1990s. Indeed, most Democrats saw George Bush’s post-9/11 focus on the dangers of Baathist Iraq as simply the natural escalation from Clinton’s own policy of occasional bombings, embargos, and no-fly zones.

But as the post-Saddam elections lined up — 2004, 2006, 2008 — and the reconstruction of Iraq proved bloodier than anticipated, the politics changed.

The Democrats became the antiwar party. Prominent pro-war pundits flipped and cursed the effort. Journalistic exposés were published in serial fashion. Michael Moore reigned supreme. And disillusioned former administration officials and generals wrote supposedly brilliant opeds about how the war was lost, and how and why Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Wolfowitz — fill in the blanks — had not listened to their own inspired advice about reconstruction. It was time to pile on. Almost all Democrats did.

Still, there were two caveats here. One, what to do about those embarrassing speeches on October 11 and 12, 2002, given by the likes of Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Harry Reid?

The answer? Mostly ignore the past (‘that was then, this is now’). Or claim they were misled by the intelligence. Or at least remove that albatross by insisting that they never really expected a reckless George Bush to take them up on their sober and judicious authorization.

The second problem was the nature of the growing antiwar mood in the country that after the pullback from Fallujah in April 2004 became frenetic. Democrats rashly fanned this national wildfire. By 2006 the conflagration had finally led to their return to power in Congress.

Unfortunately, many Democrats saw the change-of-heart in the electorate as a blanket endorsement of their own alternate universe. But it wasn’t necessarily so. The voters were not necessarily interested in new ties with terrorist Syria, restoring diplomacy with Iran, gay marriage, abortion, minority-identity politics, new spending programs, open borders, closing down Guantanamo, an end to wiretaps of suspected terrorists, or the repeal of the Patriot Act.

The people were mad at the war not because they felt it was amoral or unsound policy, or because they hated George Bush, or because they wished liberals instead to end it in defeat — but simply because they felt frustrated that we either were not winning, or not winning at a cost in blood and treasure that was worth the effort.

That Pattonesque national mood (“America loves a winner, and will not tolerate a loser”) is not quite entirely gone, and was entirely misunderstood by most Democrats. Somehow instead they saw their new popularity as connected to the appeal of their politics rather than their shared anger at the mismanagement of the war.
But check out Hanson here:

When the perception of Iraq changed unexpectedly from an unpopular quagmire to a brilliant recovery, replete with real heroes, the Democrats, like deer in the headlights, were caught frozen. After all, who wants to see next October attack-ad clips of an Iraqi politician praising the United States, or a quiet walk through smiling crowds in Ramadi juxtaposed with Senators declaring our defeat and slurring the savior of Iraq?
Read the rest. Hanson's discussion of the Democrats' rock and a hard place is delectable!

A True Race on the Republican Side

Ronald Brownstein's column today is an excellent analysis of the changing dynamics of the GOP presidential race as the first caucuses and primaries approach:

The Republican presidential contest is rapidly escalating into a war of all against all. Confrontations between the candidates are multiplying so fast that to describe the race as a circular firing squad actually understates its complexity. It's more as if the leading contenders are scorpions in a bottle, striking at anything else that moves.

The marquee Republican matchup pits former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney against former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. But Romney is also jostling more aggressively with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Meanwhile, Giuliani has endured a steady pounding from former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who is also targeting Huckabee. Huckabee is responding in kind to Thompson and Romney.

This is a much more intricate pattern of hostilities than in the Democratic race. The lines of argument among Democrats follow a simple spoke-and-hub model, with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as the hub. Both Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards regularly target Clinton, but neither has contested much with the other or with any of the second-tier hopefuls. Clinton has confined her responses mostly to jabbing back at Obama.

Why is the conflict so much more dispersed in the Republican race? The biggest reason is that every other Democratic candidate understands that he cannot win the nomination without getting past Clinton. None of them have an incentive to challenge each other unless they can weaken her first.

No Republican, by contrast, has emerged as a clear national front-runner comparable to Clinton. Five candidates (Romney, Giuliani, Thompson, Huckabee, and Sen. John McCain) have a chance to win at least one of the three key early states: Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

As a result, the race has been balkanized into a series of regional showdowns. Tension is rising between Romney and Huckabee because they are now running almost step for step in Iowa. Romney and Giuliani are dueling for New Hampshire, with McCain still lurking. If Huckabee gets a boost with Christian conservatives from a strong Iowa showing, he would divide the voter base that Thompson is relying on in South Carolina.
I noted yesterday how Mike Huckabee was stirring the pot on the GOP side, and his debate peformance was likely to give him a boost in Iowa.

Fire and Floods in Orange County

Just weeks after the Southland wildfires, Orange County residents are being evacuated from their canyon homes amid heavier-than-expected rains. The Los Angeles Times has the story:

Orange County officials ordered mandatory evacuations of Modjeska and Williams canyons this afternoon as heavier-than-expected rains continued to pound Southern California, snarling the morning commute and prompting rising concerns about mudslides in canyon areas burned in the October brush fires.

Sheriff's officials prepared to go door to door in burn areas considered at high risk for flash flooding, starting with about 300 houses. Additional teams were being put together in case deputies needed to alert homeowners in nearby Trabuco and Silverado canyons, authorities said. Another team of deputies was patrolling the canyons looking for signs of trouble.

A care center for those heeding the evacuation orders was opened at El Modena High School in Orange.

A second band of rain mixed with showers was expected to arrive this afternoon, prompting concerns that the afternoon commute would be equally bad and that mudslides might be triggered by day's end.

Southern California has been experiencing its driest year on record, with less than 4 inches of rain in downtown Los Angeles before today. Weather officials said they wouldn't have a tally of today's precipitation until this afternoon.

Orange County officials opened their emergency operations center in the morning in anticipation of possible mandatory evacuations of canyon communities. Those areas are particularly vulnerable to floods and slides because the recent fires burned away much of the vegetation on the canyon's sides that would have soaked up the rain, said Bryan Brice, a battalion chief with the Orange County Fire Authority.

Residents of Modjeska Canyon, hit hard by last month's Santiago fire, made their way out of the tightknit community on narrow roads already made treacherous by mud and downed branches. They had been alerted by a community group about 9:45 this morning to begin preparing for possible mandatory evacuations.

Several hundred residents gathered last night at the local volunteer fire department for an emergency meeting, where they were warned about the extreme danger.

"It's not an if, it's when," said Orange County Fire Authority Chief Chip Prather.

Mudslides, officials said, are often silent, giving no notice they are about to occur. State fire authorities told those gathered that as little as two-tenths of an inch of rain in 15 minutes, or half an inch in half an hour, could lead to the "loss of life and homes." Prather cautioned residents to remain vigilant, even if they are told to evacuate multiple times over the coming months.

"If you're anything like me you might get apathetic, and you can't do that," he said.

Len Nielsen of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection underscored the seriousness of the danger.

"You have to realize driving into this canyon how scary it is," said Nielsen, a member of the state's burn area response team. "If it was raining right now, I would not be at this meeting. I would not have come in here."

As a steady rain fell this morning, Barry Crow, 38, got ready to again leave the home he moved into only two weeks before the fires.

"It feels like deja vu, only wetter," he said.

While those living in burn zones brace for evacuation orders, commuters dealt with numerous accidents and long delays on Southern California roadways.
I'm fine where I am.

I stepped out this morning to take my oldest son to school and had to run back in to get my boy's jacket. The rain is nice - we need the water. But my first thought was about the fires. We wouldn't be having any more blazes, but the charred hills would likely get mudslides, and so forth.

My thoughts and prayers are going out to those affected.

Barack Obama and the Politics of Race

As a student of African-American politics, I long ago lost any excitement over Barack Obama's potential to mount a transracial presidential campaign. His speech to the Democratic National Convention was breathtaking in its firm enunciation of conservative racial priniciples. Obama's problem, unfortunatley, is that he's a Democrat. He'll appeal to the party's Ivy League and Hollywood elites, but his hammering on personal responsibility's not going down with the 'hood.

With that in mind, it's worth checking out
Juan Williams' New York Times analysis of Barack Obama's "astonishing" campaign:

BARACK OBAMA is running an astonishing campaign. Not only is he doing far better in the polls than any black presidential candidate in American history, but he has also raised more money than any of the candidates in either party except Hillary Clinton.

Most amazing, Mr. Obama has built his political base among white voters. He relies on unprecedented support among whites for a black candidate. Among black voters nationwide, he actually trails Hillary Clinton by nine percentage points, according to one recent poll.

At first glance, the black-white response to Mr. Obama appears to represent breathtaking progress toward the day when candidates and voters are able to get beyond race. But to say the least, it is very odd that black voters are split over Mr. Obama’s strong and realistic effort to reach where no black candidate has gone before. Their reaction looks less like post-racial political idealism than the latest in self-defeating black politics.

Mr. Obama’s success is creating anxiety, uncertainty and more than a little jealousy among older black politicians. Black political and community activists still rooted in the politics of the 1960s civil rights movement are suspicious about why so many white people find this black man so acceptable.

Much of this suspicion springs from Mr. Obama’s background. He was too young to march with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His mother is white and his father was a black Kenyan. Mr. Obama grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, then went on to the Ivy League, attending Columbia for college and Harvard for law school. He did not work his way up the political ladder through black politics, and in fact he lost a race for a Chicago Congressional seat to Bobby Rush, a former Black Panther.

In an interview with National Public Radio earlier this year, Mr. Obama acknowledged being out of step with the way most black politicians approach white America....

The alienation, anger and pessimism that mark speeches from major black American leaders are missing from Mr. Obama’s speeches. He talks about America as a “magical place” of diversity and immigration. He appeals to the King-like dream of getting past the racial divide to a place where the sons of slaves and the sons of slave owners can pick the best president without regard to skin color.

Mr. Obama’s biography and rhetoric have led to mean-spirited questions about whether he is “black enough,” whether he is “acting like he’s white,” as a South Carolina newspaper reported Jesse Jackson said of him. But the more serious question being asked about Mr. Obama by skeptical black voters is this: Whose values and priorities will he represent if he wins the White House?

As he claims to proudly represent a historically oppressed minority, Mr. Obama has to answer the question. Too many black politicians have hidden behind their skin color to avoid it.

Fifty percent of black Americans say Mr. Obama shares their values, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center. But that still leaves another half who dismiss him as having only “some” or “not much/not at all” in common with the values of black Americans.

There is a widening split over values inside black America. Sixty-one percent of black Americans, according to the Pew poll, believe that the values of middle-class and poor blacks are becoming “more different.” Inside black America, people with at least some college education are the most likely to see Mr. Obama as “sharing the black community’s values and interests a lot.” But only 41 percent of blacks with a high school education or less see Mr. Obama as part of the black community.

Overall, only 29 percent of people of all colors say Mr. Obama reflects black values. He is viewed as the epitome of what Senator Joe Biden artlessly called the “clean” and “articulate” part of black America — the rising number of black people who tell pollsters they find themselves in sync with most white Americans on values and priorities.

And in a nation where a third of the population is now made up of people of color, Mr. Obama is in the vanguard of a new brand of multi-racial politics. He is asking voters to move with him beyond race and beyond the civil rights movement to a politics of shared values. If black and white voters alike react to Mr. Obama’s values, then he will really have taken the nation into post-racial politics.

Whether he and America will get there is still an open question.
Williams needs to keep in mind that Obama's main hurdle is winning the primary. Primary voters are more ideological than those in the general election. Not only that, the Democratic Party that is emerging for the post-Bush age is moving further toward the ideological sidelines occupied by an antiwar, multiculturalist, race-preferences, open-borders constituency that would staunchly reject a political agenda of accomodation with the "white power, war-mongering" political elite.

This is
the same constituency that worked to defeat moderate Senator Joseph Lieberman in his primary contest against antiwar novice Ned Lamont. The party's multicultural wing dominates the presidential nomination process.

The Democratic Party's reaction to the Bush administration's veto of
SCHIP's expansion into a middle-class children's health entitlement reveals the broad basis of the Democratic Party's entitlement culture, which includes a huge constituency of aggrieved minority voters. (See Thomas Edsall's, Chain Reaction The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics, for an analysis of the Democratic high-spending, race-preferences constituency.)

I don't think Barack Obama's going to make inroads with this block of voters. He should switch parties, firm up his position on Iraq and the war on terror, and mount a comeback in the 2012 primaries, calling for a new post-racial politics of achievement, inclusion, responsibility, and uplift.

Sean Taylor and the African-American Crisis

As readers of my blogging will recall, I've been especially critical of the descent into oblivion of America's black lower third.

What's the black lower third? It's the black underclass, the bottom one-third of the country's African-American demographic. This cohort has been mired in poverty, underemployment, educational crisis, crime, illegitimacy, and family disorganization.

It's hard to discuss the situation of the black lower third. We've had forty years of civil rights gains, but millions of African-Americans have been left behind. As Juan Williams pointed out in his book, Enough, the contemporary black political leadership has betrayed African-Americans by pursuing a political strategy that exploits the cult of victimology of the underclass.

I'm reminded of the crisis of black America in reading
this morning's commentary by Jason Whitlock on the murder of Sean Taylor. Whitlock's a sports commentator at FOX Sports. He occasionally veers away from athletic analysis to provide penetrating commentary on the black crisis, for example, with his earlier critical, contrary perspective on the Jena Six affair.

In his piece today, "
Taylor's Death a Grim Reminder for Us All," Whitlock argues that Taylor, a safety with the NFL's Washington Redskins, was killed by the "Black Ku Klux Klan":
There's a reason I call them the Black KKK. The pain, the fear and the destruction are all the same.

Someone who loved Sean Taylor is crying right now. The life they knew has been destroyed, an 18-month-old baby lost her father, and, if you're a black man living in America, you've been reminded once again that your life is in constant jeopardy of violent death.

The Black KKK claimed another victim, a high-profile professional football player with a checkered past this time.

No, we don't know for certain the circumstances surrounding Taylor's death. I could very well be proven wrong for engaging in this sort of aggressive speculation. But it's no different than if you saw a fat man fall to the ground clutching his chest. You'd assume a heart attack, and you'd know, no matter the cause, the man needed to lose weight.

Well, when shots are fired and a black man hits the pavement, there's every statistical reason to believe another black man pulled the trigger. That's not some negative, unfair stereotype. It's a reality we've been living with, tolerating and rationalizing for far too long.

When the traditional, white KKK lynched, terrorized and intimidated black folks at a slower rate than its modern-day dark-skinned replacement, at least we had the good sense to be outraged and in no mood to contemplate rationalizations or be fooled by distractions.

Our new millennium strategy is to pray the Black KKK goes away or ignores us. How's that working?

About as well as the attempt to shift attention away from this uniquely African-American crisis by focusing on an "injustice" the white media allegedly perpetrated against Sean Taylor....

Let's cut through the bull(manure) and deal with reality. Black men are targets of black men. Period. Go check the coroner's office and talk with a police detective. These bullets aren't checking W-2s.

Rather than whine about white folks' insensitivity or reserve a special place of sorrow for rich athletes, we'd be better served mustering the kind of outrage and courage it took in the 1950s and 1960s to stop the white KKK from hanging black men from trees.
But we don't want to deal with ourselves. We take great joy in prescribing medicine to cure the hate in other people's hearts. Meanwhile, our self-hatred, on full display for the world to see, remains untreated, undiagnosed and unrepentant.

Our self-hatred has been set to music and reinforced by a pervasive culture that promotes a crab-in-barrel mentality.

You're damn straight I blame hip hop for playing a role in the genocide of American black men. When your leading causes of death and dysfunction are murder, ignorance and incarceration, there's no reason to give a free pass to a culture that celebrates murder, ignorance and incarceration.

Of course there are other catalysts, but until we recapture the minds of black youth, convince them that it's not OK to "super man dat ho" and end any and every dispute by "cocking on your bitch," nothing will change....

Blame drugs, blame Ronald Reagan, blame George Bush, blame it on the rain or whatever. There's only one group of people who can change the rotten, anti-education, pro-violence culture our kids have adopted. We have to do it.

According to reports, Sean Taylor had difficulty breaking free from the unsavory characters he associated with during his youth.

The "keepin' it real" mantra of hip hop is in direct defiance to evolution. There's always someone ready to tell you you're selling out if you move away from the immature and dangerous activities you used to do, you're selling out if you speak proper English, embrace education, dress like a grown man, do anything mainstream.

The Black KKK is enforcing the same crippling standards as its parent organization. It wants to keep black men in their place — uneducated, outside the mainstream and six feet deep.

In all likelihood, the Black Klan and its mentality buried Sean Taylor, and any black man or boy reading this could be next.
Obviously, Whitlock's message does't go over well with proponents of the cult of victimology (corrupted as these folks are by an ideology of internal defeat). Indeed, the black political leadership continues to rail against "inequality" in the plight of the lower third. Here's an excerpt from Jesse Jackson's recent tirade against "institutionalized racism":

The civil rights movement succeeded in ending segregation and providing blacks with the right to vote. But the end of legal apartheid did not end the era of discrimination. And the ending of institutionalized violence did not end institutionalized racism.

Patterns of discrimination are sharply etched. African Americans have, on average, about half of the good things that whites have, and double the bad things. We have about half the average household income and less than half the household wealth. On the other hand, we're suffering twice the level of unemployment and twice the level of infant mortality (widely accepted as a measure of general health).

African Americans are brutalized by a system of criminal injustice. Young African Americans are more likely to be stopped, more likely to be searched if stopped, more likely to be arrested if searched, more likely to be charged if arrested, more likely to be sentenced to prison if charged, less likely to get early parole if imprisoned. Every study confirms that the discrimination is systemic and ruinous. And yet no candidate speaks to this central reality.

African Americans are more likely to go to overcrowded and underfunded schools, more likely to go without health care, more likely to drop out, less likely to find employment. Those who do work have less access to banks and are more likely to be ripped off by payday lenders, more likely to be stuck with high-interest auto and business loans, and far more likely to be steered to risky mortgages -- even when adjusting for income. And yet, no candidate speaks to this central reality.

The result is visiting a catastrophe on the urban black community. I and many others campaign for young people to stay in school, to graduate and not to make babies until they are prepared to be parents. My son and I write and teach about personal financial responsibility. Personal responsibility is critical. But personal responsibility alone cannot overcome the effects of a discriminatory criminal justice and economic system in generating broken families and broken dreams.
At least Jackson mentions the crucial role of personal responsibility. Unfortunately, his mention comes at the end of a boilerplate elaboration of the "white system" locking blacks into cycle of inferiority.

The black crisis is not a popular topic in conservative middle America. Perhaps the broad American middle class is waiting for the black underclass to step up to the plate, to seize the legacy of Martin Luther King and drive toward the achievement and mobility that awaits them.
As Shelby Steele has noted:

Blacks today are freer than at any time in our entire history, yet our identity is more grounded in victimization than ever.
The prompt for writing the post was
an intriguing entry on Sean Taylor's death over at Countervailing Force. Here's some interesting commentary, from the comments to that post:

I have a friend at work who is a Black, small town Mississippi bred man. His statement to me one day is "The problem with Black folk is Black folk." He's earned his degree in math despite growing up in one of the most historically racist states. So, w/ all due respect, Jesse, and Reverand Al, yes, there is racism, but it is not the REAL problem in the Black community. Educational opportunities are there, but it needs to be culturally inculcated, and it needs to be taught that one must separate from the hood. Sean Taylor never really got away from the hood. Others have. Others have not and have paid for it. Sean was a great football player, a fantastic hitter and thus was famous, but now he's just a statistic. He's one of many that die senselessly. But then again, maybe "It's a Black thing, you wouldn't understand."
Well said. I hope that more blacks will adopt a more can-do approach.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

CNN's YouTube Controversy

Over at Memeorandum, Michelle Malkin's got a huge (the biggest?) list of blogs responding to her post taking down CNN for its debate plants last night.

As readers have seen, I enjoyed the debate, and found it really helpful (see
here and here). Still, I think John Podhoretz offers an excellent analyis of CNN's faults in his post over at Contentions:

I only saw a little of the Republican presidential debate last night, which featured video questions sent in through YouTube selected by CNN. There’s a lot of griping this morning about how the debate was an embarrassment and a bad night for the GOP in general because CNN chose questions that were either defiantly peculiar, beneath contempt, or freakish. I wonder if there’s a little oversensitivity at work here, because the great surprise of the first YouTube debate in September, featuring Democrats, was how substantive it was and how it forced the Democratic field to engage for the first time in discussing policy differences. That was even true about the question from the man dressed in the snowman costume.

What is notable, however, is what a hash CNN is making in this long election season of its self-described reputation as “the first name in news.” In two successive debates now, CNN has made editorial decisions that range from the bizarre to the scandalous. The bizarre conduct came in the Democratic debate in Nevada two weeks ago, which concluded with a bubbly young woman asking a vapid question about whether Hillary Clinton preferred diamonds or pearls. When that young woman came under withering assault for wasting time with something so stupid, she said she had wanted to ask about nuclear-waste removal but that a CNN producer had pushed her to come up with something lighter.

Think about that the next time someone tells you that CNN is preferable to the Fox News Channel because it is “more serious.” (Yes, for the record, I am a Fox News Channel contributor, but in this context, even MSNBC is positively Ciceronian compared to CNN.) The scandalous aspect last night is that three Democratic operatives were allowed to pose as “unaffiliated voters” asking questions specifically designed to embarrass the entire Republican party, not just the candidates on stage. Given the fact that it took
bloggers all of 12 seconds to figure this out, one has to ask how on earth CNN producers didn’t think to do the elementary spade work of simply Googling the names of the questioners to ensure they met the “unaffiliated voter” standard CNN and YouTube had set out.

It’s easy to see why CNN’s producers liked their questions. It’s because those questions echoed the partisan prejudices of CNN producers. This sort of liberal media bias would have been far less of an issue if we were talking about a debate between the Democratic and Republican nominees for president, because in those circumstances both candidates are seeking to govern all Americans, even those who don’t vote for them. But in a Republican primary debate, when it is GOP members who are trying to determine which candidate should best represent their party, an overwhelmingly Democratic institution like CNN needs to be specially conscious of the way its biases might play into question selection. If CNN had been conscious about this, and had therefore been prudent about checking out the identities and preferences of the video questioners it had selected, it would have avoided plunging itself into a days-long spiral of embarrassment about the network’s lack of professionalism, absence of care, and spiraling unseriousness.
I'm not as critical of CNN as some of my conservative brethren, but Podhoretz make a compelling argument.


UPDATE: From the Politico,
CNN defends its vetting of debate questioners. The article's worth a good read, but I like this, on the power of bloggers like Michelle Malkin:

The controversy over [retired Army Brig. Gen. Keith H.] Kerr highlights the uncertain new terrain facing campaigns, the media and voters as political activity migrates increasingly to the Web.
Kerr was a plant. But check out this smokescreen, from Sam Feist, CNN’s political director:

Feist asserted that conservative bloggers like Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin, who has led the way in probing the backgrounds of questioners at the GOP debate, “are trying to distract from the issues.

“It’s interesting to see our critics really focusing on the questioners, but not really focusing on the questions. You haven’t heard them say that these were not useful questions.”
Good thing we have conservative bloggers as watchdogs. Sheesh! CNN thinks they're royalty and beyond reproach!!

Mike Huckabee's Coming On Strong

As I noted in my earlier post on the YouTube GOP debate, Mike Huckabee's looking better all the time.

His outstanding debate performance last night is going to boost his campaign in Iowa, where's he's already stirring up the pot.
The Wall Street Journal has the background on Huckabee's rise in the Hawkeye State:

The Republican presidential race is becoming even more unstable, as a surging Mike Huckabee has caught up in Iowa with Mitt Romney, long seen as the front-runner in the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

The rise of Mr. Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, can be pinned to his conservative positions on social issues including abortion, guns and gay marriage. The point was driven home yesterday as he won the endorsement of Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University and son of the late Jerry Falwell. Voters also say they are attracted to Mr. Huckabee's personal style and character, calling him more genuine and affable than his rivals.

Many Republican voters have yet to be persuaded by better-funded and better-organized candidates such as former Massachusetts Gov. Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Still, Mr. Huckabee remains a long way from wrapping up a victory in the Jan. 3 caucuses and using that as a catapult for a serious run at the nomination. He will have to translate recent momentum into an organization that can drive supporters to more than 1,700 caucus sites. With his shoestring staff, that will be a challenge.
Will Huckabee's performance last night reduce that challenge a bit? Here's Chuck Todd's analysis, from MSNBC:

Big night for Mike Huckabee. On a night when many voters were looking at him in a different light thanks to the dramatic increase in attention the media's been giving him, he delivered big time. Unlike previous debates, he didn't open with a joke but instead sounded very presidential in his first answer; He had his share of one-liners, but he seemed to balance the funny with more presidential rhetoric.

Huckabee stepped up his game tonight. The rest of the field better be glad that the GOP debates end on Dec. 12, a full three weeks before the Iowa caucuses and that's enough time for his potentially dominant debate performances to fade from voter memories. Surprisingly, he didn't get attacked too much. Romney took a shot, but nothing too harsh (Iowa nice, right?). Most importantly for Huckabee, he'll likely be declared the winner of this debate by every member of the Amtrak Corridor media elite and that should get him some serious buzz. The question for the rest of the field: when will others begin to take him as a more serious threat.
David Yepsen, of the Des Moines Register, says Huckabee got a boost from his performance:

Huckabee has come out of single digits to play in the big leagues of this campaign, and his good-natured performance Wednesday shows he can swing an oratorical bat with the best of them.

While other candidates fumbled around when dealing with biblical questions, Huckabee's background as a Baptist minister came in handy when he said that there are some things in the Bible no one can understand, so it's more important to follow the things that are understandable.
Huckabee also fended off an attack from Romney over Huckabee's plan to provide in-state tuition for children of undocumented workers in Arkansas.

Huckabee shot back that he worked his way through school and that the nation shouldn't punish children for what their parents did. "We're a better country than that," he said.

McCain criticized Huckabee's support for a national retail sales tax to replace the income tax, a proposal supporters call the Fair Tax. Huckabee observed later something his minister once told him: "When they are kicking you in the rear, it's just proves you are out front."

Later, when one questioner asked what Jesus would do about the death penalty, Huckabee said, "Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office, that's what Jesus would do."

When Giuliani was asked about whether he believed every word in the Bible, Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, good-naturedly asked him, "Do I need to help you out?"

Later, when asked if he'd accept help from a gay group called the Log Cabin Republicans, Huckabee said, "I need the support of anybody and everybody I can get."

Huckabee is rapidly becoming the hot story in the 2008 presidential campaign. After Wednesday night, he's likely to get a whole lot hotter.
Yepson also claims John McCain won the debate. Yepson, does not, however, speculate as to whether McCain's performance will help his flagging campaign.

I like McCain, but I'm not optimistic on his chances. I've been looking a bit at the other candidates to see who I'm going to support in the California primary. Rudy Giuliani's lackluster performance last night has made my search a little more urgent (my thinking so far is that I'd support Giuliani after McCain, but I'm no so sure at this point).


UPDATE: See also John McIntyre at RealClearPolitics:

The GOP race is usually characterized as either a two-person contest (Giuliani vs. Romney) or a wide open field among the five viable candidates (Giuliani, Romney, Thompson, Huckabee and McCain). However, what we are fast approaching is a three-man race between Huckabee, Romney and Giuliani.
McIntyre notes further:

What we have developing is Huckabee stepping in and filling the void in the GOP field that was available to Thompson in the summer - a void that his inept campaign has been unable to fill. So perhaps instead of the Tennessean sinking the Romney campaign it could very well be the Arkansan.
I'll have more commentary on Huckabee's rise as things develop.

YouTube Republican Debate: We Must Stay in Iraq

I've got lectures this morning, but until later, here's some quick thoughts on the GOP YouTube debate, starting with this awesome question from Buzz Brockway:

The Brockway question addressed the campaign's most important issue, at least for me. With the exception of Ron Paul (whose debate performance confirmed that he'd be a disaster as president), I'm confident that the other candidates will do what's best for America's interests in the Middle East and the war on terror.

I'm excited to read the morning papers to get some overview of the consensus on the candidates' performances. But I can say two things right now:

(1) Mike Huckabee really impressed. I've got a whole new perception of Huckabee. He's an incredibly genuine man, and while I don't support all of his positions, I think he held his own. His morality on the issue of immigration is something that conservatives should consider as we move forward on that debate. A Huckabee win in Iowa could really throw open the GOP race. (Huckabee's line on Hillary Clinton - she can be "the first on a rocket to Mars" - was also a show-stealer.)

(2) John McCain again demonstrated why I firmly back his White House bid. No candidate speaks with as much credibility on the war as McCain. His exchange with Ron Paul on Iraq and isolationism was dynamite. What McCain said to Paul had to be said, and I think Paul supporters have a burden to demonstrate more persuasively that - in the context of the current terror war - paleoconservative "non-interventionism" can realistically be separated from isolationism.

But McCain also made me think more about the use of torture and American values. I've taken a Machiavellian stance on torture, and I would not rule it out when American lives are at stake in the current conflict. But McCain's argument last night on how torture is un-American was extremely moving, and I'm going to go back and rethink my position a bit.

The transcript of the debate
is here. I'll have more commentary later.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No Surge for John McCain

As readers here may recall, I've firmly backed John McCain's presidential campaign from the beginning, largely because of his unimpeachable stance on Iraq (for example, see my earlier post, "McCain Deserves a Second Look"):

One of the hopes for the McCain campaign was that as the situation on the ground in Iraq improved, so would McCain's electoral fortunes. But as today's Los Angeles Times reports, the Arizona Senator's not getting a surge in public backing:

Finally, nearly five years into the Iraq war, John McCain sees vindication at hand.

More than any other candidate for president, McCain has tied his fortunes to support for sending more U.S. troops into the unpopular war. Now that violence in Iraq has waned after a troop buildup, McCain wants some credit.

And so the Republican senator from Arizona, once a prisoner of war in Vietnam, came this week to South Carolina, an early-voting state that is home to many veterans, and proclaimed he was right all along.

"I knew what needed to be done, and now we're doing it," he told uniformed veterans and others packed into Hudson's Smokehouse in Lexington for a barbecue dinner.

Just back from a Thanksgiving weekend visit to Iraq, McCain told stories of restaurants newly opened, soccer games, a decline in bombings, fewer bodies found dumped overnight, and "a dramatic shift in the attitude of the Iraqi people."

"We are winning in Iraq, and that's a fact," he said.

Yet it is far from clear that GOP voters are ready to reward McCain. He might have been right about the need for a troop buildup, said Karin Hollack, a Republican college student from Des Moines. But, she said, that does not make him any less "off-putting."

"I don't really like him," said Hollack, 27.
I think those sentiments really capture a lot of McCain's difficulties. His maverick history has alienated the conservative base - exactly the type of people who're essential to winning the primaries.

One of my blogging buddies, Dee over at
Conservatism With Heart, has been giving me a hard time about McCain. Check out her post handicapping the GOP primary race.

Also, don't miss my recent posts on the future of conservatism,
here and here.

And remember, the CNN YouTube Republican debate's on tonight. You might get a kick out
this Wired article on the editorial process of selecting the best YouTube questions for the debate. CNN's producers don't go with the most popular:
"If you would have taken the most-viewed questions last time, the top question would have been whether Arnold Schwarzenegger was a cyborg sent to save the planet Earth," says Bohrman, the debate's executive producer. "The second-most-viewed video question was: Will you a convene a national meeting on UFOs?"
Ron Paul backers must have dominated the video submission process!

The Ethanol Bust

This morning's Wall Street Journal's got an awesome piece on the market collapse of ethanol, the corn-based fuel alternative that environmentalists love to tout:

Little over a year ago, ethanol was winning the hearts and wallets of both Main Street and Wall Street, with promises of greater U.S. energy independence, fewer greenhouse gases and help for the farm economy. Today, the corn-based biofuel is under siege.

In the span of one growing season, ethanol has gone from panacea to pariah in the eyes of some. The critics, which include industries hurt when the price of corn rises, blame ethanol for pushing up food prices, question its environmental bona fides and dispute how much it really helps reduce the need for oil.

A recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development concluded that biofuels "offer a cure [for oil dependence] that is worse than the disease." A National Academy of Sciences study said corn-based ethanol could strain water supplies. The American Lung Association expressed concern about a form of air pollution from burning ethanol in gasoline. Political cartoonists have taken to skewering the fuel for raising the price of food to the world's poor.

Last month, an outside expert advising the United Nations on the "right to food" labeled the use of food crops to make biofuels "a crime against humanity," although the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization later disowned the remark as "regrettable."

The fortunes of many U.S. farmers, farm towns and ethanol companies are tied to corn-based ethanol, of which America is the largest producer. Ethanol is also a cornerstone of President Bush's push to reduce dependence on foreign oil. But the once-booming business has gone in the dumps, with profits squeezed, plans for new plants shelved in certain cases, and stock prices hovering near 52-week lows.

Now the fuel's lobby is pleading with Congress to drastically boost the amount of ethanol that oil refiners must blend into gasoline. But formidable opponents such as the livestock, packaged-food and oil industries also have lawmakers' ears. What once looked like a slam-dunk could now languish in pending energy legislation that might not pass for weeks, if ever.
Read the whole thing.

I'm especially intrigued on how the diversion of corn to fuel production roiled markets for corn-based food production. The bottom line, at least for me, is that markets work. High demand drove prices up, devasting farmers who need affordable feed for their livestock. Futher, oil industry operatives don't like being told by bureaucrats that they've got to boost production of ethanol blended fuels. But now, with the collpase of prices, some of those industry insiders are hoping for a round of legislative mandates for increased ethanol use!

But don't forget the environmentalists, who've lost their lust for the corn-based fuel alternative:

This year, even as the production glut was driving down ethanol's price, critics and opposing lobbyists were turning up the heat. Environmentalists complained about increased use of water and fertilizer to grow corn for ethanol, and said even ethanol from other plants such as switchgrass could be problematic because it could mean turning protected land to crop use. Suddenly, environmentalists, energy experts, economists and foreign countries were challenging the warm-and-fuzzy selling points on which ethanol rose to prominence.

"Our love affair with ethanol has finally ended because we've taken off the makeup and realized that, lo and behold, it's actually a fuel," with environmental and various other drawbacks, says Kevin Book, an analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group Inc.

And you've got to get a kick out this U.N. advisor who's calling ethanol market diversion a disaster for the food intake of the Third World's poor!

The hypocrisy doesn't get any better than this! Al Gore to the rescue?!!

Reunifying the Conservative Base

I received a nice response in the comments to my earlier post, "The Resurgence of Small Government Conservatism?" For the most part, while folks are fairly dispersed in their opinions, I noticed some yearning for a return to more traditional conservatism in the post-Bush years.

So, Howard Fineman's MSNBC on reunifying the conservative base, "The Republican Party's Three Difficult Pieces," might provide a nice follow-up. Fineman focuses on reassembling a coalition of the religious right, small-g conservatives, and victory-firsters. Check it out:

In the midst of a shaky economy and an unpopular war, it is nothing short of astonishing that the Republican Party’s contenders run neck-and-neck with Democrats in test matchups. But the GOP is going to lose next fall if it cannot reunify the three pieces of its conservative base: evangelicals, libertarians and hawks.

As Republicans head into one of the last televised debates before the voting starts, the cracks in their Reagan-Bush coalition not only are showing, they’re getting wider. The ideological ala carte candidates – Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani – are generating buzz; the one-size-fits-all conservatives – Mitt Romney, John McCain and Fred Thompson – have yet to show they can unify the party.

Just look at the TV ads and polls and you can see what I mean. Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist preacher, is fast becoming the semi-official candidate of the evangelicals, and is rising in Iowa as a result. In a new TV ad running there, he touts his religion. “Faith doesn’t influence me,” he says. “It really defines me.” Even Pat Robertson didn’t say that in 1988.

Among libertarians – the anti-tax, small-government crowd that worships at the altar of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman – Paul is the baptized hero. His TV ad in New Hampshire (where he is about to crack double digits) features local voters praising his “Live Free or Die” attitude, and he is on course to raise $12 million via the Internet by the end of December.

For the hawks – law-and-order crusaders against Communism and now terrorism – Giuliani is the Man, going George W. Bush and Dick Cheney one better in confrontational, I-love-Armageddon fervor. His new TV ad in New Hampshire stresses his pacification of New York in trying times. The implication: what he did to squeegee men, criminals and welfare cheats he can do to al-Qaida, Hamas and Hugo Chavez. Rudy is making a serious play in New Hampshire, lured by some positive poll numbers.

Romney’s spinners were displeased when I said on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” that, by trying to be all things to all people, their candidate could end up being nobody to anybody. As they see it the governor of Massachusetts – leading in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina – appeals across the board. No other candidate,” said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden, “can appeal to all three” conservative subgroups.

Well, I agree that Mitt has a smooth operation that runs like buttah, and that he is loaded with cash and self-discipline. And yes, Romney is leading in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. But, as I travel in those and other states, I don’t sense a lot of bottom-up hunger for him. There is a touch of Amway to the deal somehow.

In the old days, perhaps McCain or Thompson – each with solid, comprehensive conservative records – would the logical unifiers. But, for personal and career reasons, it’s not easy for either to accomplish that difficult task. They’ve both been around Washington for decades. That is a handicap in presidential campaigns, which tend to favor crusaders over insiders. Wear and tear may be a factor. There is a lot of flight time on McCain’s jet, and perhaps not enough gas in Thompson’s pickup.

All of which explains why, at this late date, the GOP race seems so formless and chaotic. The nomination is very much worth having. But to grab it, someone is going to have to step forward on the stage to play Ronald Reagan with a script by Karl Rove.

The next change [chance] for that person to emerge is Wednesday night’s CNN debate in St. Petersburg, Fla. I’ll let you know if Reagan/Rove shows up.

The CNN debate is tonight.

As I noted in my earlier post, Reagan is the model for a conservative rejuvenation. As much as we'd love it, we're not likely to see the emergence of a Reaganesque figure in the GOP in 2008. In fact, many conservatives are looking for someone competent, competitive, and capable of restoring some measure of small-g discipline to America's poltical system (at least, that's what I gather from my commenters, as tiny and non-scientific a sample that may be).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Israel's Right to Exist is Non-Negotiable

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators reached agreement today to enter into formal diplomatic negotiations on a possible peace treaty, the Washington Post reports.

But the opening statments by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas - who both made reference to the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees - indicate how deeply problematic progress toward compromise is likely to be:

Abbas referred to a U.N. resolution that Palestinians believe gives them a right to return to their land in Israel, while Olmert mentioned a 2004 letter that President Bush gave former Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon which said the return of such refugees was unrealistic.

Bernard Lewis, at the Wall Street Journal yesterday, offered a penetrating analysis of the prospects for a Middle East breakthrough, addressing particularly the Palestinian refugee question:

Herewith some thoughts about tomorrow's Annapolis peace conference, and the larger problem of how to approach the Israel-Palestine conflict. The first question (one might think it is obvious but apparently not) is, "What is the conflict about?" There are basically two possibilities: that it is about the size of Israel, or about its existence.

If the issue is about the size of Israel, then we have a straightforward border problem, like Alsace-Lorraine or Texas. That is to say, not easy, but possible to solve in the long run, and to live with in the meantime.

If, on the other hand, the issue is the existence of Israel, then clearly it is insoluble by negotiation. There is no compromise position between existing and not existing, and no conceivable government of Israel is going to negotiate on whether that country should or should not exist.

PLO and other Palestinian spokesmen have, from time to time, given formal indications of recognition of Israel in their diplomatic discourse in foreign languages. But that's not the message delivered at home in Arabic, in everything from primary school textbooks to political speeches and religious sermons. Here the terms used in Arabic denote, not the end of hostilities, but an armistice or truce, until such time that the war against Israel can be resumed with better prospects for success. Without genuine acceptance of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State, as the more than 20 members of the Arab League exist as Arab States, or the much larger number of members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference exist as Islamic states, peace cannot be negotiated.

A good example of how this problem affects negotiation is the much-discussed refugee question. During the fighting in 1947-1948, about three-fourths of a million Arabs fled or were driven (both are true in different places) from Israel and found refuge in the neighboring Arab countries. In the same period and after, a slightly greater number of Jews fled or were driven from Arab countries, first from the Arab-controlled part of mandatory Palestine (where not a single Jew was permitted to remain), then from the Arab countries where they and their ancestors had lived for centuries, or in some places for millennia. Most Jewish refugees found their way to Israel.

What happened was thus, in effect, an exchange of populations not unlike that which took place in the Indian subcontinent in the previous year, when British India was split into India and Pakistan. Millions of refugees fled or were driven both ways -- Hindus and others from Pakistan to India, Muslims from India to Pakistan. Another example was Eastern Europe at the end of World War II, when the Soviets annexed a large piece of eastern Poland and compensated the Poles with a slice of eastern Germany. This too led to a massive refugee movement -- Poles fled or were driven from the Soviet Union into Poland, Germans fled or were driven from Poland into Germany.

The Poles and the Germans, the Hindus and the Muslims, the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, all were resettled in their new homes and accorded the normal rights of citizenship. More remarkably, this was done without international aid. The one exception was the Palestinian Arabs in neighboring Arab countries.

The government of Jordan granted Palestinian Arabs a form of citizenship, but kept them in refugee camps. In the other Arab countries, they were and remained stateless aliens without rights or opportunities, maintained by U.N. funding. Paradoxically, if a Palestinian fled to Britain or America, he was eligible for naturalization after five years, and his locally-born children were citizens by birth. If he went to Syria, Lebanon or Iraq, he and his descendants remained stateless, now entering the fourth or fifth generation.

The reason for this has been stated by various Arab spokesmen. It is the need to preserve the Palestinians as a separate entity until the time when they will return and reclaim the whole of Palestine; that is to say, all of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel. The demand for the "return" of the refugees, in other words, means the destruction of Israel. This is highly unlikely to be approved by any Israeli government.

There are signs of change in some Arab circles, of a willingness to accept Israel and even to see the possibility of a positive Israeli contribution to the public life of the region. But such opinions are only furtively expressed. Sometimes, those who dare to express them are jailed or worse. These opinions have as yet little or no impact on the leadership.

Which brings us back to the Annapolis summit. If the issue is not the size of Israel, but its existence, negotiations are foredoomed. And in light of the past record, it is clear that is and will remain the issue, until the Arab leadership either achieves or renounces its purpose -- to destroy Israel. Both seem equally unlikely for the time being.
See also my earlier post, "No Point in Annapolis Peace Conference."

Putting the "American Empire" Meme to Rest

Jonah Goldberg, who the Los Angeles Times calls, "one of the most prominent young conservative journalists on the scene today," offers a devasting rebuttal to the American empire debate in his column today.

I've long noted
my displeasure with the America-as-empire meme, so Goldberg's piece hits a truly sweet spot with me:

For lack of a better word, the United States is getting tagged as an "empire" from all quarters. Indeed, it's been a century since the notion of an American empire got such wide circulation, and back then Washington truly had designs on such expansion. (Google "Spanish-American War" if you're unfamiliar with this period.)

The empire charge has long been a staple bit of rhetoric lobbed about by those on the political extremes -- and has even bubbled up in the presidential race. Lefty Rep. Dennis Kucinich insists that we must abandon "the ambitions of empire." Hyper-libertarian Rep. Ron Paul says that America could afford healthcare if we weren't paying the freight on "running a world empire." The word "empire" substitutes for an argument; there are no good empires, just as there are no good fascists, or racists, or dictators.

In recent years, however, there's been an attempt to rehabilitate the e-word. Historian and former Times columnist Niall Ferguson deserves primary credit for the mainstreaming of the empire debate with his 2004 book "Colossus." He faced the empire charge head-on, saying, in effect, "Yeah, so what's your point?" The world needs a stabilizing, decent watchman to keep the bad guys in check and to promote trade, he argued, and the United States is the best candidate for the job.

Ferguson concedes, however, that the American people don't want an empire, don't think that they have one, and even our elites have no idea how to run one. As David Frum noted at the time in the National Review, Ferguson "repeatedly complains that his particular fowl neither waddles nor quacks -- and yet he insists it is nevertheless a duck."

Even as he strives to rehabilitate the idea of empire, Ferguson acknowledges that the word has limitations. It "is irrevocably the language of a bygone age," he writes at the end of his book. It has become irretrievably synonymous with villainy.

Critics of American foreign policy point to the fact that the U.S. does many things that empires once did - police the seas, deploy militaries abroad, provide a lingua franca and a global currency - and then rest their case. But noting that X does many of the same things as Y does not mean that X and Y are the same thing. The police provide protection, and so does the Mafia. Orphanages raise children, but they aren't parents. If your wife cleans your home, tell her she's the maid because maids also clean homes. See how well that logic works.

When they speak of the American empire, critics fall back on cartoonish notions, invoking Hollywoodized versions of ancient Rome or mothballed Marxist caricatures of the British Raj. But unlike the Romans or even the British, our garrisons can be ejected without firing a shot. We left the Philippines when asked. We may split from South Korea in the next few years under similar circumstances. Poland wants our military bases; Germany is grumpy about losing them. When Turkey, a U.S. ally and member of NATO, refused to let American troops invade Iraq from its territory, the U.S. government said "fine." We didn't invade Iraq for oil (all we needed to do to buy it was lift the embargo), and we've made it clear that we'll leave Iraq if the Iraqis ask.

The second verse of the anti-imperial lament, sung in unison by liberals and libertarians, goes like this: Expansion of the military-industrial complex leads to contraction of freedom at home. But historically, this is a hard sell. Women got the vote largely thanks to World War I. President Truman, that consummate Cold Warrior, integrated the Army, and the civil rights movement escalated its successes even as we escalated the Cold War and our presence in Vietnam. President Reagan built up the military even as he liberalized the economy.

Sure Naomi Wolfe, Frank Rich and other leftists believe that the imperialistic war on terror has turned America into a police state. But if they were right, they wouldn't be allowed to say that.

Two compelling new books help explain why our "empire" is different from the Soviet or Roman varieties. Walter Russell Mead's encyclopedic "God and Gold" argues that Anglo-American culture is uniquely well suited toward globalism, military success, capitalism and liberty. Amy Chua's brilliant "Day of Empire" confirms why: Successful "hyperpowers" tend to be more tolerant and inclusive than their competitors. Despite its flaws, Britain was the first truly liberal empire.

America has picked up where the British left off. Whatever sway the U.S. holds over far-flung reaches of the globe is derived from the fact that we have been, and hopefully shall continue to be, the leader of the free world, offering help and guidance, peace and prosperity, where and when we can, as best we can, and asking little in return. If that makes us an empire, so be it. But I think "leader of the free world" is the only label we'll ever need or - one hopes - ever want.
This is - to the best of my knowledge - the greatest op-ed commentary debunking the America-as-empire thesis since Victor Davis Hanson's, "A Funny Sort of Empire: Are Americans really so imperial?"

Of course, the academic literature on empires is enormous (
see here, for an example, in pdf), and I haven't specialized in it to any extent. I have offered my reflections on this research, similar to Goldberg's:

There is an American order in international politics, and that is an order of great power leadership in a realm of nation states that is bound by increasing multilayered patterns of complex interdependence. Empires have been relegated to the ash heap of history, as well they should. Perhaps, with all due respect, this line of research may meet a similar fate some day as well.
I agree with Goldberg, as you can see: It's high time to put the American empire meme to rest.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Resurgence of Small Government Conservatism?

I've been marveling over the diversity among Republicans of late on the question of which set of conservative values will prevail in the post-Bush era. The current ferment has got me thinking: Is Reagan the model, as he's often mentioned in the debate over the conservative future?

Some readers might recall Time's cover story earlier this year, "How the Right Went Wrong." The article was a paean to President Reagan:
These are gloomy and uncertain days for conservatives, who — except for the eight-year Clinton interregnum — have dominated political power and thought in this country since Reagan rode in from the West. Their tradition goes back even further, to Founding Fathers who believed that people should do things for themselves and who shook off a monarchy in their conviction that Big Government is more to be feared than encouraged. The Boston Tea Party, as Reagan used to point out, was an antitax initiative.

But everything that Reagan said in 1985 about "the other side" could easily apply to the conservatives of 2007. They are handcuffed to a political party that looks unsettlingly like the Democrats did in the 1980s, one that is more a collection of interest groups than ideas, recognizable more by its campaign tactics than its philosophy. The principles that propelled the movement have either run their course, or run aground, or been abandoned by Reagan's legatees. Government is not only bigger and more expensive than it was when George W. Bush took office, but its reach is also longer, thanks to the broad new powers it has claimed as necessary to protect the homeland. It's true that Reagan didn't live up to everything he promised: he campaigned on smaller government, fiscal discipline and religious values, while his presidency brought us a larger government and a soaring deficit. But Bush's apostasies are more extravagant by just about any measure you pick.
One of the Bush-era apostates is Michael Gerson, who's got a new book out, Heroic Conservatism. Gerson's a former Bush administration chief speechwriter, and he champions a vision of a muscular, missionary conservativism that's a far cry from the small-government groundings of the Reagan Revolution.

Ross Douthat's got a review of Gerson's book up today at Slate, "
The Future of the GOP." He makes a powerful case that Gerson's "heroic conservatism" is the wrong remedy for what's ailing the Republican Party. While Gerson promotes big government policies and Wilsonian idealism in international affairs, those to the left of him (it might be thought) will not warm to his ideas with his ties to the Bush administration:

Nor is Gerson likely to find a ready audience among conservatives. His year as a [Washington] Post columnist has earned him few friends to his right, given the regularity with which he has piously scolded his fellow Republicans for being too partisan, too tightfisted, and too bigoted. (In a characteristic column, he defended Bush's proposed immigration reform by accusing its foes of betraying Jesus Christ himself: "The Christian faith teaches that our common humanity is more important than our nationality. That all of us, ultimately, are strangers in this world and brothers to the bone; and all in need of amnesty.") The publication of Heroic Conservatism was met by a predictable burst of criticism from conservative pundits, in which National Review's Mark Krikorian summed up the general anti-Gerson consensus by demanding: "Why is this man called a conservative?"

It's a fair question. As the world understood the term conservative in, say, 1965, Gerson isn't one. Like many Americans who've crowded into the GOP over the last four decades—blue-collar Catholics and Jewish neoconservatives as well as evangelicals—the militantly libertarian spirit of the midcentury Right is largely foreign to him. But on the road from Goldwater to Reagan, and thence to George W. Bush, the conservative movement transformed itself from a narrow claque into a broad church, embracing anyone and everyone who called themselves an enemy of liberalism, whether they were New York intellectuals or Orange County housewives. This "here comes everybody" quality has been the American Right's great strength over the past three decades, and a Republican Party that aspires to govern America can ill afford to read the Gersons of the world—social conservatives with moderate-to-liberal sympathies on economics—out of its coalition.

Particularly since Gerson's central argument is basically correct: American conservatism needs to stand for something besides government-cutting if it hopes to regain the majority that George W. Bush won (and quickly lost). At its best, Heroic Conservatism is a necessary corrective to the right's mythologizing of its own past, which cultivates the pretense that small-government purity has always been the key to Republican success. By way of rebuttal, Gerson points out that conservatives tend to win elections only when they convince voters that they mean to reform the welfare state, rather than do away with it entirely. This was true of 1990s success stories like Rudy Giuliani in New York and Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin; it was true of the Contract With America, a far less ideological document than right-wing nostalgists make it out to be; and it was true of Ronald Reagan himself, who slowed the growth of government but hardly cut it to the bone. The insight isn't unique to Gerson; it dates back to the original, '70s-vintage neoconservatives. But it seems to be slipping away from the contemporary GOP, whose primary contenders—save perhaps for Mike Huckabee—are falling over one another to prove their small-government bona fides, and whose activists have persuaded themselves that tax cuts and pork-busting will be their tickets back to power.
Speaking of Huckabee: His rise in the polls is garning attention among conservative pundits. Robert Novak hammered him in a column today over at the Washington Post:

Huckabee is campaigning as a conservative, but serious Republicans know that he is a high-tax, protectionist advocate of big government and a strong hand in the Oval Office directing the lives of Americans. Until now, they did not bother to expose the former governor of Arkansas as a false conservative because he seemed an underfunded, unknown nuisance candidate. Now that he has pulled even with Mitt Romney for the Iowa caucuses and might make more progress, the beleaguered Republican Party has a frightening problem.

The rise of evangelical Christians as the force that blasted the GOP out of minority status during the past generation always contained an inherent danger: What if these new Republican acolytes supported not merely a conventional conservative but one of their own? That has happened with Huckabee, a former Baptist minister educated at Ouachita Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The danger is a serious contender for the nomination who passes the litmus test of social conservatives on abortion, gay marriage and gun control but is far removed from the conservative-libertarian model of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.
So who's to fill the yearning for a return to the Goldwater/Reagan consensus? Can it be Ron Paul, who's quixotic White House bid is stirring the souls of small government types across the land?

Patrick Ruffini,
over at Townhall, pumps up such speculation on Paul's unusual ascendance in his piece today, "Ron Paul Has Won":

In the past few months, Ron Paul has dramatically raised the profile of libertarianism inside the Republican Party. My small-l libertarian friends seem more comfortable describing themselves as such, even though they’ll go out of their way to disassociate themselves from Ron Paul and the big-L kind.

Libertarianism in the GOP took a big hit on 9/11, and it’s slowly coming back, with Ron Paul as the catalyst. Its underlying ideals still have appeal well beyond the cramped confines of the LP. If it’s possible to be known as a pro-life, pro-war, pro-wiretapping libertarian, then sign me up. Markos too brands himself a “libertarian Democrat,” though he’s never read Hayek and supports big government social programs.

Some campaigns can win big without ever coming close to winning an actual contest. Pat Robertson’s 1988 campaign signaled that Christian Conservatives had arrived in the GOP. Ron Paul is doing the same for libertarians. This is not a counterweight to the religious right per se, since Paul is identified as pro-life, but it does potentially open up a new army of activists on the right not primarily motivated by social/moral issues.

Not every losing single-issue candidate succeeds like this. Immigration-restrictionists still lack an outlet in the GOP, thanks to Tom Tancredo’s embarrassing tone-deafness as a candidate. Sam Brownback’s campaign had hoped to galvanize single-issue pro-lifers, but was hobbled by his dry persona. Duncan Hunter looks mostly like a campaign for Secretary of Defense.

Assuming Paul loses, where does small-l libertarianism go from here? His movement already did the smart thing by making peace with social conservatism. Libertarianism is no longer aligned with libertine stances on abortion and gay rights.

To become the ascendant ideology within the GOP, I suspect they’ll have to find a way to do the same thing on national security. The war on terror writ large is the one big thing social and economic conservatives agree on, and Ron Paul is vocally aligned against both.

Mainstream Republican libertarians might be gung-ho for Paul’s small-government idealism, they might adopt Glenn Reynoldsish skepticism of the homeland security bureaucracy, and even John McCain has lately made a thing of ripping the military-industrial complex, but there is no way — I repeat NO WAY — they will embrace Ron Paul if he continues to blame America for 9/11 and imply that America is acting illegally in defending itself around the globe. Even if they aren’t the biggest fans of the war, most people that are available for Ron Paul on the right are by temperament patriotic and will never vote for someone who sounds like Noam Chomsky.
Ruffini captures a tremendous amount of tension within the GOP's small government comeback movement. It's a tension, in my opinion, that marks a fatal direction for conservatives and the GOP. There's nothing wrong with seeking a return to fiscal conservatism (notice how Fred Barnes argues this week that shrinking the federal government is not impossible, with references to Reagan administration spending discipline). Yet, notwithstanding the concerns of the most hard-core libertarian Republicans, the expansive scope of government ought not to be something modern conservatives should abhor.

First, a dramatic reduction of the size and scope of the federal government's reach and power is utopian. Trends since World War II have dramatically increased the power of the federal government over the states, in areas as diverse as national security policy to local community development block grants. Second, there remain too many areas of both foreign and domestic policy that cry out for a combination of innovative thinking and can-do pragmatism.

On that note, I like how Douthat concluded
his review of Gerson's book at Slate:

To last, and matter, conservatism needs an agenda that partakes less of Gerson's evangelical moralism and more of the realism that defined the original neoconservatives. It needs a foreign policy whose idealism is leavened with a greater sense of limits than this administration has displayed; and a domestic policy that seeks to draw contrasts with liberalism, not to imitate it, by emphasizing responsibility rather than charity and respect rather than compassion. Above all, it needs to think as much about meeting the concerns of working- and middle-class Americans, the constituents that first Nixon and then Reagan won for the GOP, as it does about the dissidents and addicts that a "heroic conservatism" would set out to save.
Given this warning, where do we go from here?

My neoconservatism supports a muscular national security policy, and a large, well-funded defense bureaucracy to back it (and I deeply distrust
the antiwar fringe libertarians backing the Paul campaign). I also see that with our international preponderance comes great responsibility. Perhaps we'll need more prudence in a post-Bush world, but we should not recoil from the robust use of power to achieve American interests.

Note, though, that some observers forget that neoconservatism also offers a powerful domestic agenda of support for traditional values, personal responsibility, and the rejection of the social welfare paternalism of Great Society liberalism (we can do domestic policy, but we must be more judicious in our approach and more effective in implementation). Neoconservatives are especially upset by the descent of traditional morality as a guiding ethos for the new generations (a distrust the marks another break from doctrinaire libertarianism).

In other words, government is not the problem, but is a possible solution to many policy dilemmas. The key, I would argue, is to move with intelligence and pragmatism. An ideological agenda along these lines - one that recognizes that government, i.e., the state - holds a promising avenue for a restoration of conservative ideology after the Bush presidency.