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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

A big fat Lapham

Nick Schulz at Tech Central Station has coined the term “Laphams,” in dishonor of Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham who mistakenly let slip that his “coverage” of the Republican Convention was written weeks before the convention started.

Shultz opines that “the major media routinely bring to their coverage of significant political events a predetermined storyline.” He and his cohorts at TCS are collecting examples (via Instapundit).

How about the moronic convergence of Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Michael Moore all pitching the first convention night story that the Republican's are falsely putting on a socially liberal face, on a night during which not a single speaker spoke a socially liberal word? (It was "A nation of Courage" night.)

Again, the party/media hacks seem to be getting their talking points Moore, whose puddle of spittle stains today’s USA Today. Tim Graham at National Review spots the Rather/Brokaw ploy and asks them some pointed questions about coverage that has no grounding in the covered event:

What was it about Monday night's speeches that had anything to do with abortion, or homosexuality, or stem-cell research? How was it relevant to the night's events? … Certainly, the Democratic convention did not spend any time on abortion, or homosexuality: They spent it all on Lieutenant Kerry "reporting for duty." Why should the Republicans be pressed to do something different?

ABC, CBS, and NBC never mentioned abortion or gay issues in their three nights of prime-time Boston coverage. CNN also avoided these issues in prime time. MSNBC avoided abortion talk, and carried two mentions of homosexuality. Chris Matthews asked Virginia Gov. Mark Warner once about how a pro-gay stand will play in the South. (Um, it won't.) Only PBS noticed the absence of these issues in Boston, with two mentions of abortion and two of homosexuality.

But there was CNN's Aaron Brown last night complaining: "I don't think the Republican party can go an entire week without mentioning the economy, without mentioning health care, without mentioning the range of social issues. But they managed to get through the entire night tonight without talking about any of them." These are important issues, and the differences between the parties are dramatic. But a fair and balanced network wouldn't just discover them at convention number two.

As Graham notes, there was no “move to the middle” in the actual day's events, but that didn’t stop the press from sticking to its “move to the middle” story line. Was this “coverage” literally written well before the convention, as Michael Moore’s USA today article surely was? I smell a Lapham.

P.S. Moore’s best line:

Our side is full of wimps who'd rather compromise than fight.

In dealing with terrorism anyway.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Wilson DID call Bush a liar

Powerline blog is looking for examples of Joe Wilson calling President Bush a deliberate liar. Here is one from Wilson's coming out party: his Meet the Press interview on 6/6/03. The relevant part of the Meet the Press transcript:

MS. MITCHELL: ... So was the White House misled? Were they not properly briefed on the fact that you had the previous February been there [to Niger] and that it [the Presiden't State of the Union reference to Iraqi efforts to buy uranium ore from Africa] wasn’t true?

AMB. WILSON: No. No. In actual fact, in my judgment, I have not seen the estimate either, but there were reports based upon my trip that were submitted to the appropriate officials. The question was asked of the CIA by the office of the vice president. The office of the vice president, I am absolutely convinced, received a very specific response to the question it asked and that response was based upon my trip out there.

MS. MITCHELL: So they knew months and months before they passed on these allegations that, in fact, that particular charge was not true. Do you think, based on all of this, that the intelligence was hyped?

AMB. WILSON: My judgment on this is that if they were referring to Niger when they were referring to uranium sales from Africa to Iraq, that information was erroneous and that they knew about it well ahead of both the publication of the British White Paper and the president’s State of the Union address.

"They" here refers to "the White House" which obviously includes President Bush, and Wilson is quite clearly calling "them" liars. Yes, he left some wiggle room to say that technically he did not call Bush himself a liar. Bush could just be the leader of a bunch of liars. Wilson also goes on to grant that the White House could know something he does not know. But the charge of lying WAS leveled, as seen above. "My judgement" says Wilson, is that the information "was erroneous" and "they knew about it well ahead."

This Meet the Press interview was conducted on July 6th, 2003, the same day Wilson published his slanderous disinformation in the NYT, which was the context for the interview. In the NYT piece, Wilson claimed that information he gathered on his investigatory trip to Niger debunked the British intelligence report, later included in the President's 2003 State of the Union address, that Iraq had tried to buy uranium ore from Niger.

CIA director George Tenet clarified on July 11th [5 days later] that Wilson's information had actually supported the British report. An excerpt from Tenet's statement:

In an effort to inquire about certain reports involving Niger, CIA's counter-proliferation experts, on their own initiative, asked an individual with ties to the region to make a visit to see what he could learn.

He reported back to us that one of the former Nigerian officials he met stated that he was unaware of any contract being signed between Niger and rogue states for the sale of uranium during his tenure in office.

The same former official also said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him and insisted that the former official meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Iraq and Niger.

The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales.
That is, Wilson confirmed the British report that Iraq was trying to purchase Uranium, but found some reason to be skeptical that the effort had been successful. If you look at Wilson's NYT piece, Wilson only reports half of his Niger discovery:

I spent the next eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country's uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.

He then cites the difficulties of consummating an illicit uranium deal and concludes:

In short, there's simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.

That is all Wilson said in his Times piece about what he found in Niger. He included his grounds for skepticism that uranium sales had been consummated, but he left out his discovery that the attempt to secure a deal had indeed been made. In addition to lying by omission, the disinformation in the Times piece is Wilson's pretence that grounds to be skeptical that the deal had been consummated was grounds for criticizing President Bush's State of the Union claim that Iraq "sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Set aside for a moment that Wilson knew that Iraq HAD sought uranium. Where was the press on this disjoint? Seeking and getting are very diffent things. How could the press accept a denial that Iraq got uranium as a denial that uranium was sought?

The failure of the press to catch this disjoint could possibly be incompetence, but when it came out five days later in Tenet's statement that Wilson had witheld from his NYT piece the crucial information that he had actually confirmed the attempt to buy uranium, that HAD to be front page news. Instead it was buried, so well that when the 9/11 commission report backed up Tenet's information on Wilson this summer, even most conservatives were under the impression this exposure of Wilson as a liar was new. The fact is, there has been proof of it for over a year.

Note that Tenet was discrete, omitting Wilson's name from his press conference statement, probably in an attempt to comply with the law, but since Wilson had already outed himself as the operative who was sent to check out the Niger intelligence, it was still unambiguous that Tenet was refering to Wilson. In spite of this clear implication, it would seem that Tenet's discreteness gave the media the excuse they needed not to connect the obvious dots, and in the middle of a veritable firestorm of front page assertions that Bush lied, avoid acknowledging even in their back pages that Wilson's accusations of lying had already been exposed to themselves be lies.

UPDATE: WaPo's Howard Kurtz ran a Lexis search and found that the NYT ran 70 stories on Wilson since his original piece ran in their paper. They knew all along that he had lied on their pages, but they pretended he was credible right up until the 9/11 report came out.

Also, seems I am not the only one who remembers that Tenet exposed Wilson as a liar the week after Wilson came out in the NYT. Just One Minute has a post that notes both Tenet's remarks, and the NYT's softpedaling of Wilson's exposure as a fraud by the 9/11 Comission a year later. (Esp. the update.)

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Global warming alarmists still running gov. bureaucracy

The Bush administration continues to be plagued by a climate science bureaucracy built by global warming zealot Al Gore, as seen by today's USGCRP report to congress. The report is not downloading properly at the moment, but if the description in today's NYT can be trusted, it does not stand up to scrutiny.

The studies in the report that point to a human cause for recent warming all involved supercomputer simulations of climate, which have increased in power over the last several years.

The latest analysis, done at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., found that natural shifts in the output of the sun and other factors were responsible for the warming from 1900 to 1950, but could not explain the sharp and continuing rise since 1970.

If the report is relying on computer models, it is a load of crap, because as anyone who has been following the global warming story knows, the biggest development in global warming science has not yet been incorporated into the computer models.

Observers have long noted the marked correlation between sunspot activity and climate (most obviously, between the "Maunder minimum" of sunspot activity and the "little ice age," both readily observable in the 17th centurh, thanks to Galileo's twin inventions of the telescope and the thermometer). The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (whose scientists are running the computer models) has always assumed that sunspots affect climate primarily through their effect on solar luminescence, which is quite small, leading to the conclusion that: “solar forcing is considerably smaller than the anthropogenic radiative forces.” (From the IPCC second assessment report, 1995/6, Working Group I--The Scientific Basis--p. 115.)

In the last ten years, it has been discovered that luminescence is not the primary mechanism by which sunspots affect climate. Rather, climate is affected mainly by the storms of solar wind (of solar-magnetic flux) that sunspots hurl into space. These storms shield the Earth from cosmic radiation that would otherwise ionize the atmosphere and promote cloud formation. In effect, the increased solar wind has the effect of blowing the clouds away, giving the Earth a sunburn.

This mechanism was substantially well understood whent the IPCC's 3rd Assessment Report came out in 2001, but the UN scientists refused to let it intrude on their story that human influences on climate dominate natural ones. They simply set it aside on grounds that "At present there is insufficient evidence to confirm that cloud cover responds to solar variability."

Subsequent discovery of a geological record for sunspot activity has revealed that solar activity has been in a frenzy since the 1940's and is now far higher than at any other known time. This suggests that if the cosmic-ray/cloud cover-mechanism is real, it could easily account for the tiny amount of global warming observed since 1980, and evidence continues to pile up in favor of the cosmic-ray/cloud-cover thesis, with a conference on the subject taking place this week. (A New Scientist article on the conference can be found here.)

The alarmists' computer models still do not incorporate this cloud effect, at least according to the New Scientist article:

...what makes it [the cosmic ray theory] controversial is that climate models used to predict the consequences of rising levels of greenhouse gases do not allow for the effect, and may be inaccurate.

This suggests that the new report to Congress, claiming that people are warming the Earth, is based on models that do not include the Cosmic-radiation/cloud-cover mechanism. This would be especially egregious, given that the NYT story quotes administration official James Mahoney saying that the report reflects:

"the best possible scientific information" on climate change.

The PDF has finally finished downloading (it is a coffee table glossy, full of scenic pictures) so I can now take a look. Not much information--it is more like a sales pitch than even an executive summary--but it does describe in general terms what is included in the models that the USGCRP is referencing, and my above suspicions appear to be borne out:

The simulations show that observed globally averaged air temperatures can be replicated only when both anthropogenic forcings--for example, greenhouse gases--as well as natural forcings such as solar variation and volcanic eruptions are included in the model. (p.47, with reference to fig. 9.)

The language of "solar variation" suggests that the variable employed is variation in solar luminosity. Sunspots are not just "solar variation." They are a separate qualitative mechanism, and one that has not been seen in computer models before. I am pretty sure that if the model builders had made a stunning advance and figured out how to model the consequences of easier cloud formation when sunspots are absent, they would have mentioned it.

What is really telling is the list of plans to improve climate modeling in the future (pp 51-55). It mentions plans for improved understanding of "cloud and water-vapor feedbacks"; for research on "cloud feedbacks and ocean mixing"; lots of prescriptions for improving the infrastructure and resolution of the computer models, but not one word about trying to understand or incorporate sunspot/cosmic-radiation effects. The USGCRP is acting like a bastion of global warming religionists, furiously pretending that this new sunspot understanding, which is ripping the rug out from under the old warming alarmism, does not exist.

Shades of the Swiftvet story, where the old media is struggling with all its might to suppress the story, while the new media is busy doing an end around. This is another story that will be known only by those who follow alternative information channels. Unfortunately, it seems all Bush has managed to do is put a couple of stuffed shirts at the top who are letting the Gore fanatics undeneath them do whatever they want. Signatories Donald Evans at Commerce and Spencer Abraham at Energy are pretty pretty high above such staff reports, but shouldn't they at least be siccing knowledgable people on this stuff? John Marburger, Director of the office of Science and Technology policy, has even less excuse. He ought to be on this personally. He is either asleep at the wheel, or he is a wrong guy.

There is a credible worry that if solar activity falls off from its current highs it could usher in the next ice age, and here the alarmists want to cripple economies around the world in order to put on an infinitesimally cooler jacket of greenhouse gases. The reality is that we have very little idea how warm a jacket we will want to be wearing fifty or a hundred or two hundred years from now. All we can know for sure is that, in facing an uncertain future, our best chance of adapting is if we have a healthy and technologicaly advanced economy. Don't slow the economy down. Speed it up.

The USGCRP claim that anthropogenic forcings are critical for explaining the observed temperature rise of recent decades (which gets smaller with every re-inspection) are taken verbatim from the IPCC's 3rd Assessment Report of 2001. Compare the USGRP's fig. 9 (p.47) to fig. 4 (p.11) from the executive summary of the 3rd Assessment Report (or chap 12, fig.12.7 from the full report). They are identical, including ending in the year 2000. That makes James Mahoney's statement that that the USGRP report reflects "the best possible scientific information" on climate change really despicable. The IPCC report was malfeasent three years ago. With all the progress on sunspots since then, it is completely discredited. Is Mahoney a Gore religionist, or a clueless Bush appointee? Can't the Bush administration figure out that this stuff is important?

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Mistake for Bush to claim ownership of speech regulation

The Democrat-left loves to smear President Bush, the Patriot Act and the war on terrorism as destroyers of civil liberties. Anyone who has looked at the actual details of the Patriot act and administration policies is well aware that the steps taken to free up law enforcement are all obvious and long over-due. The real problem is that the Bush administration remains tied by phony politically correct “civil rights” concerns at many points, most obviously its refusal to target the young Arab and Muslim men that are targeting us. But all of this reality flies under the mainstream media radar screen. The one place where President Bush’s civil rights bona fides have been publicized is in his consistent response to the slanders of anti-American bigots like Michael Moore. Bush has consistently said that he welcomes everyone’s free speech, that that is what we are fighting for. Yet now, when a group of Vietnam Veterans want to exercise their free speech, Bush starts talking about shutting down “unregulated” speech (“unregulated soft money” technically).

I can’t think of a better way to lose middle of the roaders, who are for the war on terror but are afraid of losing civil liberties. (Instapundit posts a comment from one such voter.) Of course Kerry is a worse enemy of free speech, sending every broadcast television station a promise to sue if it shows the Swiftvets’ ads, filing complaints with the FEC, calling on President Bush to tell the Swiftvets to shut up. But the media covers up the worst of this as far as possible. If Bush threatened to sue television stations for running his opponents ads it would be front page news for a month, backed up with thousands of editorials condemning this outrageous attack on free speech. When Kerry does it there are no news stories, not even on page 16, no editorials, no condemnation. But Kerry opened the door when he decided to go nuclear against the Swiftvets, calling them a bunch of Republican funded liars and demanding that President Bush shut them up. This gave the President an opportunity to contrast his free-speech approach to Kerry’s anti-free-speech approach that the press could not ignore. He could have come out and said:

Senator Kerry wants me to condemn the free speech of those Vietnam war veterans who oppose his candidacy. I have been attacked relentlessly by Democrat 527’s like Moveon.org. Democrat National Committee Chairman Terry McCauliff has falsely accused me of being AWOL from my National Guard service. Michael Moore put out a full length movie of malicious disinformation about our nation’s war effort. I haven’t liked the things that these people have been saying, but I have welcomed it. At every turn I have said that their free speech is part of what we are fighting for. Senator Kerry does not understand that. He thinks that the President of the United States can tell a group of Vietnam veterans to shut up. I am here to tell you, and Senator Kerry, that the President of the United States CANNOT tell a group of Vietnam veterans to shut up. Any candidate for president really does need to understand that.

Instead Bush claimed ownership of our experiment in flushing the First Amendment. There is no upside for him here. Leftist free speech is not going to stop. He just trades in the credit he has earned for being pro-free-speech for the blame for being anti-free speech, a very serious issue to many people. This bodes ill.

UPDATE: Polipundit has an opposite take, noting that there are some big upsides for Bush in the way things are working out. In particular:

...from now on, any attack ads from the Left have been blunted. No matter how nasty, Kerry can no longer ignore the MoveOn.org, Moore, and Soros hit teams; at least a part of the voters will see them as linked to Kerry, unless he denounces them.

True. But does Bush really have to push for banning 527's in order for this Kerry hypocrisy to be telling? Just the fact that Kerry has run crying to daddy/Bush and mommy/FEC to make the Swiftvet ad stop, while much larger pro-Kerry 527's run truly slanderous attacks against Bush and the Swiftvets, paints Kerry as the ultimate crybaby. Bush is able to focus attention on this crybaby nature when he calls Kerry's anti-527 bluff, but look at the price. He at the same time focuses attention on himself as a moving force for censorship. What a disaster!

Unfortunately, banning 527's has been Bush's position since last fall. This is just one of our terror-war hero's many serious liabilities. Hopefully it won't sink him.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Kerry, Bush on same page militarily?

The headline "Kerry, Bush on same page militarily” would seem to be tough case to make. Anti-Vietnam-war Kerry is a hawk? Anti-Contra, pro-Sandinista Kerry? The same Kerry who as senator voted to cut defense and intelligence for twenty years? The “I actually voted for the 87 billion dollars, before I voted against it” Kerry? Can The San Francisco Chronicle actually run a whole article taking Kerry’s election-season make-over as a military hawk at face value?

Forty years ago, such journalistic malfeasance would have earned a quick firing, but as J.R. Ewing put it, “once you give up integrity, the rest is easy.” In today’s Chronicle, staff writer James Sterngold has no qualms about reporting Kerry’s new clothes without adding a single mention of Kerry’s long anti-military history. And this is not just his opinion, Sterngold assures us: “...experts say the reality is that military strength is one of the few issues on which the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates hold strikingly similar views.”

For support he cites John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a military research institute in Washington: "The war in Iraq has sucked all the air out of the room on this debate," says Pike. "There's no constituency for the debate on what sort of military power we should be. Bush and Kerry do have different visions on how to run our empire, but there is no discussion on whether we should have it."

Oh really? This is why the French are mad for Kerry? Because he is an advocate for America’s military empire? What can correctly be said is that there is no room for a candidate to admit he is a dove. Another of Sterngold's expert witnesses, Thomas Henriksen, a military expert at the Hoover Institution, states the point correctly, even as Sterngold misrepresents him: “Kerry is doing in international affairs what Clinton did domestically. He's positioning himself in the center [emphasis added], and he's really pushing the military issue as a result.”

Talking tough and meaning it are two different things, and we have already seen Kerry in action. 9/11 may have changed everything, but that doesn’t mean it ushered in an unprecedented situation. What it did was put us back in the same situation we were in in 1980, 4 years before the beginning of Kerry’s Senate career, when we faced an implacable foe. Laying down for America’s enemies was not a winning electoral ploy then either, but that didn’t stop Carter from being the antithesis of Reagan. Like the French, Carter thought that American power was the problem, and he threw it away like a Million-Mom marcher throwing away her guns: Nicaragua to the Sandinistas; the Panama Canal to China; Iran to the Mullahs; Afghanistan to the Soviets. Whatever any of our enemies wanted, Carter would not oppose them.

Kerry has always been Carter. His entire Senate career was spent as an attack dog for the Carter wing's anti-military, anti-American-power agenda. (See the recent Newsmax article on The Kerry Committee’s use of the communist Christic Institute to slander the Contras.) But in Sterngold’s supposedly neutral survey of the “experts,” there is not one mention of anyone who questions whether Kerry is really a hawk. Instead, Sterngold devotes almost half of his article to a discussion with Ashton Carter, an ex-Clinton Defense Dept. official who is now a senior military advisor for the Kerry campaign. In effect Sterngold pads his article with direct campaign literature.

Check out this softball:

"We're in total agreement on all sides of that," said Carter [referring to the building of new bases in the Middle East]. "Yes, you have to take the offensive. You can't take the defensive."

Asked if that did not suggest Kerry had more in common with Bush on military issues than was often supposed, Carter agreed.

"I think that's right," Carter said of the similarities. "He recognizes that this is necessary for the U.S."

I have a better question for Mr. Carter: “Why should anyone believe Kerry’s recent hawkish make-over after he tried to cut defense for twenty years, including at the height of the cold war?” There might actually be an answer to that: “In the cold war, Kerry was anti defense because he sided with the Vietnamese and the Sandinistas and the communists in general. He does not side with the Islamic fascists, so you can trust him now.” Wouldn’t it be great if all of a sudden, like Jim Carrey in Liar-Liar, nobody could lie? Republicans would say the same things, but a bit more acerbicly (our acerbic friends excepted). Democrats would all cross their arms in front of their legs like girls caught in the shower.

Sterngold’s sliest disinformation comes when he manages to approve Kerry’s two faced position on troop re-deployments without acknowledging how two faced Kerry actually is on the issue. It is quite a trick. The article opens with an account of Kerry’s attack last Wednesday on Bush’s proposed troop withdrawals from German and South Korea: “Kerry charged Wednesday that the plan would be reckless and costly, weakening crucial foreign alliances just when they were needed most.”

That might sound hawkish to doves, but Sterngold realizes that it isn’t really hawkish to place pork for our one-time German allies above the need for fighting troops in Iraq and elsewhere. Thus he lets the above mentioned Kerry-campaign-operative, Ashton Carter, speak out of the other side of Kerry’s mouth:

"I can imagine (Kerry) even taking some of these actions" described by Bush, Carter said. "You do it quietly."

Thus Sterngold lets Kerry have it both ways (as is Kerry’s wont), but on the quiet, while making no mention of how boldly Kerry has taken opposite sides on troop re-deployment a mere two weeks apart.

As Joe Klein wrote in a Time magazine piece that came out yesterday:

But oops. Some two weeks earlier, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Kerry had taken a different position: "I think we can significantly change the deployment of troops, not just [in Iraq] but ... in the Korean peninsula, perhaps, in Europe, perhaps." As you might imagine, the Bush campaign quickly pointed out the inconsistency.

And wow, Time Magazine reported it (hat tip, LGF). No such breaches of the party line are allowed at the San Francisco Chronicle. Revealing Kerry’s flip flop would have undermined the whole unmentioned theme of Sterngold’s article: that Kerry’s new clothes can be trusted, so he fails to mention the telling current news about the centerpiece of the article. Can somebody please fire this trash!

The Chronicle's Kerry disinformation is also on display in the three items the paper has run about the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth. After ignoring the Swiftvets detailed and corroborated charges for ten days, the Chronicle last Thursday published the Washington Post’s initial foray on the issue. That was the Michael Dobbs article that attacked Thurlow’s account of the bronze medal incident by noting that it is contradicted by the language of Thurlow’s own bronze medal citation. What Dobbs failed to mention is that one of the Swiftvets’ original charges was that Kerry wrote up embellished after-action reports on which all the medal citations were based. (Either Dobbs never read the Swiftvets chapter that had been made publicly available, or he was happy to omit what he knew was the answer to the criticism of Thurlow that he was raising. Again, can somebody please fire this trash!)

The next day Chronicle staff writer Zachary Coile wrote a long piece covering the accusations that the Swiftvets are are partisan hacks, bought and paid for with Republican money. That article also rehashed the Thurlow story, again omitting the Swiftvets' point that Kerry had written the medal citations, even though Thurlow had the day before reminded reporters of this contention in a press release on the Swiftvets website. (Scroll down to 8/19.) Also, like the Post piece, the Chronicle article made no mention of the blockbuster news that the Kerry campaign had a couple of days earlier conceded one of the Swiftvets main claims: that Kerry was not in Cambodia on Christmas eve 1968, as he often asserted. That would seem to speak to the issue of credibility.

The third Swiftvet item in the Chronicle was Oliphant’s disgusting depiction of the Swiftvets as a bunch of drunken barfly wannabees. Might even San Francisco leftists be bothered at being relentlessly lied to this way?

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Time to perform reflective equilibrium on Rawls’ Theory of Justice

Interesting to see a blog discussion circling around John Rawls’s great mistake: his claim that nobody deserves anything. Understanding this mistake is the key to getting Rawls right.

Will Wilkinson started the recent flare-up by posting a piece at Tech Central Station critiquing the Rawlsian “nobody deserves anything” type of thinking. Wilkinson argues that denial of desert does not fit with people’s considered moral convictions, as Rawls says that a successful theory of justice should.

In reply, Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber writes:

There are no doubt one or two sentences in A Theory of Justice that encourage such an interpretation. But, as Wilkinson surely knows, the argument in which Rawls asserts that “no one deserves his place in the distribution of natural endowments, any more than one deserves one’s initial starting place in society” (which Wilkinson cites, selectively, from the first edition of ToJ) concerns the choice of a co-operative scheme for a whole society.(1) In the passage in question Rawls is not addressing the question of whether those who are better-endowed with natural assets or who have “superior character” ought to get more within a co-operative scheme, he’s writing about whether their better endowment ought to be reflected in the choice of scheme under which they co-operate with others.(2) And his answer is, that no, the more talented have no special right to have their interests given greater weight than those others. [See Bertram’s post for citations.]

Bertram is half right. When Rawls makes his claims that people do not deserve the rewards that redound to their talents or even their efforts, he is doing it in order to build a abstract choice position (decision-making behind a veil of ignorance about one’s place in society) that does not allow people to tailor the rules of society to fit their special circumstances. This can be seen in the way that Rawls arrives at his "original position" of choice behind the veil of ignorance. Rawls arrives at ignorance by stripping away "morally irrelevant" information. The idea is that, once the morally irrelevant is stripped away, the resulting choice point should be moral. (Sounds sensible, right?)

Using this methodology, Rawls' claim that no one deserves ANYTHING leads to a situation of ignorance about ALL the particulars of one's situation, and this is indeed a moral choice point. By forcing people to pick rules without knowing their place in society, the veil of ignorance forces people to consider consequences for all members of society. Decision-makers are forced to "Love thy neighbor as thyself." The veil of ignorance is the Christian "law of love" in abstract form. Not bad. No wonder Rawls has a lot of followers. It really seems like he must be making sense.

Bertram is very wrong, however, to suggest that Rawls’ denial of desert is limited (or pretty much limited) to his construction of the veil of ignorance. The ordinary language interpretation that Wilkinson gives, the nobody-deserves-anything interpretation, is very much a part of Rawls’ theory. People are DUE the income and positions that they can attain by playing within the rules that are established behind the veil of ignorance, but no one DESERVES their income or position. That is the whole premise that leads to the veil of ignorance. If anyone were to deserve anything, the veil of ignorance would never come into existence.

But wait a minute. That doesn’t make sense does it? As soon as anyone deserves anything, the entire mechanism for arriving at principles of justice disappears? Something is very very wrong here. Why does there have to be a world where no one deserves anything before people can contemplate not knowing their place in society? If people can be made hypothetically ignorant of their talents, why can’t they be made hypothetically ignorant of their deserts?

Rawls used an errant mechanism to arrive at his veil of ignorance. The idea of stripping away morally irrelevant information seemed to him to fit what he was doing, but if it only works when ALL information is morally irrelevant then it HAS to be wrong. Look what happens in Rawls' scheme if someone deserves something. That means he gets to know about it when choosing rules for society, which means that he gets to bias the rules in favor of his particular kind of desert. What sense does that make? That doesn't capture fairness (Rawls' original idea). The way to capture fairness is to have people decide principles for answering claims of desert from behind a veil of ignorance about one’s particular claims of desert. In other words, all of that business about stripping away the morally irrelevant information is a wrong turn. That isn't what leads to the veil of ignorance. Fairness is.

Rawls had a realpolitik account of why people will want to be fair (so that they can cooperate, and not kill each other) but he did not have a good moral account of why people should be fair. That is why he added the scheme of stripping away "morally irrelevant" information: to give his theory a moral foundation. But the upshot is, while the veil of ignorance is right, the moral-relevance scheme for arriving at it is wrong. There is, however, a correct way to arrive at the veil of ignorance (hint: figure out why moral people want to be fair, even when they could get away with cheating.) Once the veil is arrived at properly, claims of need and claims of desert can both be accounted from behind the veil, leading to rules of justice that reflect both need and desert. As Rawls’ theory stands now, only claims of need are accounted behind the veil of ignorance. And yes, adding claims of desert DOES changes the principles arrived at.

Rawls is easy to forgive. He knew that the veil of ignorance was right, and he thought (because it seemed to work) that he had to annihilate desert in order to get there. He also knew that he was reaching beyond himself to try to pull such an ambitious theory together and he knew that this reach would involve mistakes. That is why a core part of his theory is about how to advance the project through a process of “reflective equilibrium." After the first iteration, check the principles that emerge from the theory against considered convictions. See where they go wrong. Trace the errors to their sources. Try to figure out by that process how to reframe the theory. Figure out how to take the progress that has been made, and flip it into the right position.

Wilkinson is engaging the first step of that methodology, pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. Rawls’ annihilation of desert does NOT square with the moral intuitions, and he is right. OF COURSE people deserve a share of what they create. Was Rawls so eloquent as to blind his followers to the most obvious of all moral intuitions for thirty years? Is that a tribute? Wake up! This isn’t what we are supposed to do. We are supposed to SEE the mistakes, not help Rawls hide them. If the theory needs to be flipped, you don’t just keep tarring the twisted parts over in hopes that they will look smooth.

The definitive rejection of the no-one-deserves-anything position is David Kelley’s great little book A Life of One’s Own. Neither Kelly nor Rawls can figure out how to square claims of need with claims of desert. Rawls’ answer is to only account claims of need. Kelly’s answer is to only account claims of desert (which he frames in terms of self-ownership). The right answer is to account both. What is truly shocking is that claims of desert and claims of need CAN be reconciled, meaning that the right answer will fully satisfy BOTH sides. Honest people will not have anything to fight about any more. (Why does that not make me confident that the fighting will stop?)

Defenders of the no-one-deserves-anything view think they are defending Rawls. That is a grave mistake. So long as they are fixated on what Rawls got wrong, they can't correctly understand what he got right.

A “no prize” for the first person who can explain how to reconcile claims of need and claims of desert. Hint: one word, four letters.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Internment and racial profiling

Michelle Malkin’s new book—In Defense of Internment: The Case for Racial Profiling in World War II and the War on Terror—comes out this week. Those who are interested in these subjects might want to check out the pair of articles on internment and racial profiling that I published in The Stanford Review after 9/11.

My racial profiling article—Mineta is Repeating the Internment Mistake—was published in January of 02. Its central point is that internment did a lot of harm (not necessarily more harm than good, but a lot of harm) because it failed to distinguish between the guilty and the innocent. In contrast, searching Middle Eastern and Pakistani looking men at airports has the precise purpose and effect of distinguishing the guilty from the innocent, so that the guilty can be interdicted while the innocent are left unscathed. An excerpt:

The analog to internment, in the instance of airline security, would be to not let the profiled group fly. Letting them fly, on condition that we search them, minimizes the harm. The profiled group isn't actually harmed at all. They don't even have to wait longer at the airport than anyone else. Everyone waits while they are searched. Indeed, the profiled group benefits along with everyone else. They get to keep their lives, when body searches of young Arab and other Muslim men stops would-be hijackers from bringing weapons onto planes. If only blue eyed people such as myself were terrorists, you can bet I would want every blue eyed passenger to be searched before I got on a plane.

I heard that this article convinced a number of people who had been against the use of racial profiling to change their minds. Yeah, like anyone who read it.

It should be noted that internment did try to be selective. The idea was that internment would only be required for those who renounced allegiance to the United States (as 5000 Japanese-Americans did immediately after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor), and for those who refused to both swear allegiance to the United States and to forswear allegiance to foreign potentates, as every naturalized citizen is required to do. (14,000 of these “no-no boys” were interned at Tule Lake.) Other Japanese-Americans had to leave the militarily sensitive west coast Evacuation Zone, but internment was not nominally a requirement. It turned into a de facto requirement for many, however, when other parts of the United States refused to accept large numbers of these evacuees.

I also wrote an article about United States v. Korematsu, the Supreme Court case that upheld the constitutionality of internment. That article—“The end of equal protection: from Korematsu to Bollinger”—traces back to Korematsu our current very loose standard for allowing constitutional provisions to be overridden. Doesn’t it seem strange that any “compelling state interest” should constitute sufficient grounds for overturning a constitutional provision? Shouldn’t constitutional provisions only give way when they conflict with other constitutional provisions?

The “compelling state interest test” is now used to re-open for consideration political questions that were settled at the highest democratic level: the super-majority process for passing and amending the Constitution. Consider the free speech example. What is the best way to get at the truth? Should we let reason and evidence duke it out with demagoguery and trust that truth will win out when speech is free, or should be try to set up a system of regulated speech, somehow designed to try to get at the truth? The Constitution settled this question, but the “compelling state interest test” opens it back up. The state has a compelling interest in the truth. Under current Supreme Court Jurisprudence, that is all that legislatures need to re-enter and re-decide this question. Thus we now have the criminalization of political speech. (The Court's new First Amendment jurisprudence does not directly follow from Korematsu's equal protection precedent, but it is a near cousin, invoking the same concepts.)

In effect, the Constitution is no longer the supreme law of the land, and it all started with Korematsu, where the Supreme Court decided that the Constitution needed a little fixing. The correct ruling, you see, would have been that Korematsu had no case because the Fourteenth Amendment, and hence the "equal protection" clause that Korematsu was appealing to, only applies to the states, not to the federal government. The Court understood that the President's war fighting powers take precedence over equal protection in any case, but it couldn't stomach the idea that the feds don't have to abide by the equal protection requirement, so it fudged all distinction between state and federal. Since the federal interest at stake was a constitutional power, this meant fudging the distinction between constitutional provisions and generic state interests. In attempting to fix the Constitution, the Court planted the seeds of destruction. A fascinating story.

UPDATE: I also have an internment cartoon!

Monday, August 09, 2004

RFK Jr: Everyone who isn't a communist is a fascist

Working outdoors last week, listening to talk radio, I jotted down notes for a couple of blog entries:

1. Fascinating Hannity interview with R.F.K. Jr.

Quoting Jr.’s book, Hannity cited Jr.’s definition of communism as government take-over of business and his definition of fascism as business take-over of government.

Historically this definition of fascism is incorrect. The NAZI National Socialist party was, as its name suggests, a socialist party, not a business party. Still, the RFK formulation does have the virtue of correctly identifying communism and fascism as THE SAME THING. Both are national socialism, where the government achieves totalitarian power by melding the economy and the government into a single system of force.

But Jr. is not done. In addition improperly identifying fascism with business, he also disassociates fascism from illiberalism. Fascist parties in democratic nations (from various European fascists to the Islamists in Algeria) have always had the same objective that communist parties in democratic nations do. Their stated goal is to gain power democratically, then use that power to end democracy and civil rights. Jr., in contrast, calls it fascism whenever business gains democratic representation. Thus the Bush administration is fascist because the Republicans believe in economic liberty (at least compared to the Democrats).

In sum, Jr. is a communist: he rejects both democracy and economic liberty. Further, he calls anyone who DOES believe in democracy and economic liberty a fascist. This isn’t just sick. It is weird beyond belief, like Michael Moore. In place of reason, these moral freaks substitute a kind of free form six-degrees-of-separation type associational method for connecting A to Z in whatever way serves their biases, unconstrained by the zillion non-sequiturs that the connection entails. So long as they can come up with a pseudo-logic, that is good enough for them. They can pass the meme on to like-minded people who are also guided by bias, and no one can force any of them to bother with the illogic of it all.

What else could explain the ultimate weirdness of RFK Jr: that in addition to calling anyone who cares about the interests of business a fascist, he thinks of himself as a champion of free-markets. Earth to RFK: free markets are the primary business interest.

Of course it is true that business will seek to use the law to restrict competition. That is the purpose of 99% of government regulation of the economy. For instance, almost every kind of business in America is now subject to licensing requirements, prompted by lobbying from established businesses who seek to raise a barrier against new competition. (Hat tip to Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom.) But government regulation of the economy is Democrat ideology, not Republican ideology.

Both parties have their special interests. That is unavoidable. But it is the Republicans whose principled position looks to create a larger pie and it is the Democrats who focus on fighting over shares. The larger pie comes from de-regulation, allowing easy entry and free competition. Fighting over shares is unionization, affirmative action, price-supports, etcetera. If anyone is fascist, in Jr.’s perverse definition of fascism, it is the Democrats. They are the party of special interests.

The same hold true for Jr.’s pet hobby horse: environmentalism. When property rights are missing, markets cannot function. Republicans seek to mimic what markets would achieve either by creating missing property rights (e.g. tradable pollution permits) or by using cost-benefit analysis to try to figure out how to target efficient outcomes by regulation. The environmental movement on the other hand (in its present radicalized form, a pure Democrat franchise) consistently opposes both market solutions and the weighing of environmental costs and benefits.

Recall Democrat/environmentalist opposition to drilling for oil in A.N.W.R.. The project's tiny footprint—2000 acres total, spread out at wide intervals across 1.5 million acres of coastal plain—was rejected on the gounds that ANY footprint would violate the “pristine” quality of this mosquito-infested swamp.

This was a pure rejection of cost-benefit analysis. The actual weighing of environmental harms was explicitly rejected. Ditto with Kyoto and with the Clinton administration’s last minute standards for arsenic in the water and mercury in the air. These poison-pill policies utterly fail any cost-benefit analysis, yet environmentalists are full of outraged charges that any rejection of them gives up the public interest in favor of special business interests. Wrong. It is the Democrats who are rejecting efficient solutions in favor of their special interest in an environment untouched by human activity.

For an emotional trump, Jr. hit Hannity with the claim that asthma rates are rapidly increasing due to air pollution, adding for good measure the race angle that black kids have several times the asthma rate of white kids, supposedly because of the high level of fine particulate pollution in inner cities.

As with Michael Moore’s lies, this kind of claim handcuffs a respondent until he can look into the issue and find what the truth is. In the case of asthma, no one knows what is causing rates to go up. One theory is increased allergic reaction to cockroach and dust-mite allergens, thanks to the shrinking amount of time that kids spend playing out-doors, especially in inner city black neighborhoods ravaged by gang warfare. What we CAN say is that the increasing rate of asthma is almost certainly NOT caused by air pollution, given that air pollution rates have fallen drastically over the last thirty-five years. (Hat tip Michael Fumento.)

Horrible to think that my home state of Massachusetts has gone from bad (Teddy Kennedy) to worse, now being an incubator for the worst of the Michael Moore wing of the Democrat party. To think that she was once the home of the Minutemen....

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