Tag Archives: Conn Carroll

Updates On The Cheeseheads

Andrew Sullivan rounds up reacts

Christian Schneider at The Corner:

On Wednesday night, Wisconsin Senate Republicans did what most people thought impossible — they passed Governor Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill virtually intact, without having to split out controversial provisions that limited the ability for government employees to collectively bargain.

A letter Democrat Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller sent the governor today, indicating Miller’s unwillingness to further negotiate any details of the bill, was what prompted the GOP’s decision to take the bill to the floor.

“It was like, ‘I’m in the minority, and I’m going to dictate to you what your options are,’” said one GOP source about Miller’s letter. It was just three days ago that Miller had sent Fitzgerald a letter urging more negotiations, despite the fact that Governor Walker had been negotiating with at least two Democrat senators for nearly a week. “With his recent letter, it became clear that all he wanted to do was stall,” said the GOP source.

Another action that provoked the GOP senators to act was Democrat Senator Lena Taylor’s very public decision to have a spring election absentee ballot sent to her in Illinois. The spring election is scheduled for April 5th, which indicated Taylor’s desire to stay out of the state for another month. “That sure didn’t help,” said one GOP source.

The Wisconsin Constitution requires a quorum of three-fifths of the Senate in order to pass a bill that “imposes, continues or renews a tax, or creates a debt or charge, or makes, continues or renews an appropriation of public or trust money, or releases, discharges or commutes a claim or demand of the state.” For weeks, it had been known that Republican senators could separate the fiscal provisions of the bill from the proposed collective-bargaining changes, which were seen as non-fiscal. However, there was speculation that, if a bill was brought to the Senate floor that contained only the collective bargaining changes, it might not have the votes to pass.

On Wednesday night, the bill passed with a number of provisions that could be considered “fiscal,” such as the requirement that many government employees contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries to their pensions and pay 12.6 percent towards their health-insurance premiums.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

The courage of the Wisconsin Senate conservatives cannot be understated. Before the vote, lawmakers were threatened with death and physical violence. After the vote, thousands of protestersstormed into the capitol building, ignoring announcements from police that the building was closed. Once inside, and at great risk to the public welfare, activists handcuffed some doors to the capitol shut. When security escorted the Senators to another building, a Democrat tipped off the mob, which then surrounded their cars and tried to break their windows as Senators returned home.

Senate Democrats, who are still hiding in Illinois, are now claiming that the majority’s committee meeting that broke up the budget-repair bill violated Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law. But the Open Meeting Compliance Guide clearly states that when there is “good cause,” only two hours’ notice is required. The Senate majority did provide the two hours’ notice. If the Senate Democrats’ 19-day refusal to show up for work wasn’t “good cause” enough, certainly minimizing the opportunity for union mob violence is.

The passion coming from liberal activists is understandable only if one believes in their apocalyptic rhetoric. Democratic Senator Timothy Cullen said the bill will “destroy public unions.” And Senator Chris Larson has said, “collective bargaining is a civil right” that if removed will “kill the middle class.” This is all false. First of all, since unions care more about seniority than good government, public-sector unions kill middle-class jobs; they do not protect them. Second, collective bargaining is not a right. And finally, Walker’s bill will in no way “destroy public unions.” Government unions are still perfectly free to practice their First Amendment rights to freedom of association, and in fact still retain more bargaining power than all unionized federal employees. They only difference is that now they will have to actively recruit members instead of forcing government employees to join them, and they will have to collect their own dues instead of getting the state government to take them directly out of workers’ paychecks. And there are many more benefits as well. Governor Walker writes in today’s Wall Street Journal:

When Gov. Mitch Daniels repealed collective bargaining in Indiana six years ago, it helped government become more efficient and responsive. The average pay for Indiana state employees has actually increased, and high-performing employees are rewarded with pay increases or bonuses when they do something exceptional.

Passing our budget-repair bill will help put similar reforms into place in Wisconsin. This will be good for the Badger State’s hard-working taxpayers. It will also be good for state and local government employees who overwhelmingly want to do their jobs well.

Even in good economic times, the case for government subsidies for radio stations, cowboy poetry, and union dues is very weak. But in a time of fiscal crisis, all of these subsidies are patently absurd. Taxpayers throughout the country should be inspired by Walker’s stand for common sense. We need more leadership like this in every state capitol and here in Washington.

E.D. Kain at Forbes:

And now conservatives have chosen public-sector workers and teachers as their hill to die on. They have followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and elected Scott Walker, Rick Scott, and various other Tea Party candidates. Heavily funded by big campaign donors like the Koch brothers and other corporate interests, the Republican party has made a concerted effort across the country to take on unions, public pensions, and social services for the poor.

Enabled by a strong school-reform movement within the Democratic party, emboldened Republicans have waged an all-out assault on teachers, public education, and public unions and masked it all in the language of school choice and accountability. And now, in Wisconsin, they have side-stepped the Democratic process and ended collective bargaining rights for public sector employees, even amidst huge protests and popular condemnation.

Republicans have a long history of union-busting and anti-labor rhetoric, but taking on teachers and cops is a big mistake. This blatant effort to weaken the Democratic party will have precisely the opposite effect.

The healthcare debate gave Republicans a chance to capture the narrative, spin the entire debate into one about fiscal ruin and deficits. Now Scott Walker has given progressives their chance. This is the Democrats chance to recapture that narrative, to turn the discussion back to the dignity of the middle class, to the importance of policies that do not simply push power and capital ever upward. This is the Republican’s Waterloo.

Nate Silver:

The quality of polling on the Wisconsin dispute has not been terrific. But there’s a general consensus — including in some polls sponsored by conservative groups — that the Republican position was unpopular, probably about as unpopular as the Democrats’ position on health care. And the most unpopular part of their position — limiting collective bargaining rights — was the one that Republicans passed last night.

Nor is the bill likely to become any more popular given the circumstances under which it passed. Yes, there’s some hypocrisy in claims by Democrats that the Wisconsin Republicans used trickery to pass the bill — they did, after all, approve it with an elected majority, just as Democrats did on the Affordable Care Act. Nevertheless, polling suggested that Wisconsinites, by a two to one majority, expected a compromise on the bill, which this decidedly was not.

One question is how much this might hurt Republicans at the state level. As David Dayen notes, Democrats will have opportunities to fight back almost immediately, including in an April 5 election that could swing the balance of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, as well as in efforts to recall Republican state senators. Essentially all of Wisconsin outside of the Madison and Milwaukee metropolitan areas is very evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, so there could be a multiplier on even relatively small shifts in turnout or public opinion.

Andrew Samwick:

I refer to the passage of this bill as the end of the beginning — the opening salvo was to write the bill and find a way to pass it.  The next phase is to see if it can withstand legal challenges and recall efforts to change the legislative balance.  There will be some drama in that phase, but that’s not what really interests me.  The real issue comes in the next phase, assuming the law survives.  There will be two important questions:First, what will the strike that follows the implementation of the law look like?  Narrow or general?  How much support will the public sector unions get from other unions and non-union workers?  Will the disruptions to commerce be enough to get taxpayers and their representatives to fold?  Now that’s drama.

Second, what will happen in specific cases of local public sector employers negotiating with a stronger position?  Governor Walker defends his efforts partly as follows:

Local governments can’t pass budgets on a hope and a prayer. Beyond balancing budgets, our reforms give schools—as well as state and local governments—the tools to reward productive workers and improve their operations. Most crucially, our reforms confront the barriers of collective bargaining that currently block innovation and reform.

Suppose his intentions are borne out — teachers regarded as ineffective are not renewed, teachers regarded as effective are rewarded, or some combination of higher quality and lower cost emerges for people to see.  I am a strong believer that in a well functioning market, workers are protected by their ability to take their talents to another employer (Free to Choose, Chapter 8).  The key question will be whether the markets for public services at the local level function well enough for this to happen.  For an economist, that’s even more dramatic.

mistermix:

If the Wisconsin Republicans’ plan was to jam through the defeat of collective bargaining with a sketchy parliamentary move, they should have done it the minute that Democrats vacated the state. If that had happened, the howls would have been loud but fairly short-lived, since it’s easier to energize people when they’re trying to prevent something from happening, rather than complaining after the fact.

Instead, we have today’s trainwreck. Walker got his number one item, but he paid a huge price. He’s almost certainly a one-term governor. There’s a dissenting Republican in the Senate, and presumably we’ll hear more from him. If there’s a general strike, the union’s side of the case is now clearly outlined in the public mind. If the unions don’t strike, they look like paragons of restraint. And what about the recalls? No matter the outcome, they’ll occupy the press and public attention for the next few months.

The Democrats and unions took a sad song and made it better, as far as I can tell. One of the side-effects of our distraction-oriented media and low-information voters is that only one issue can be front-and-center in the public debate. Unions haven’t had much attention recently, so the slippery lies that blame them for all of our many ills have gone unchallenged. In Wisconsin, that’s not going to be the case for the next year or so.

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Filed under Economics, Legislation Pending

Give The Public What They Want, More Blog Posts On Mandates

Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Kevin Sack at NYT:

Seeking to appease disgruntled governors, President Obama announced Monday that he supported amending the 2010 health care law to allow states to opt out of its most burdensome requirements three years earlier than currently permitted.

In remarks to the National Governors Association, Mr. Obama said he backed legislation that would enable states to request federal permission to withdraw from the law’s mandates in 2014 rather than in 2017 as long as they could prove that they could find other ways to cover as many people as the original law would and at the same cost. The earlier date is when many of the act’s central provisions take effect, including requirements that most individuals obtain health insurance and that employers of a certain size offer coverage to workers or pay a penalty.

“I think that’s a reasonable proposal; I support it,” Mr. Obama told the governors, who were gathered in the State Dining Room of the White House.

“It will give you flexibility more quickly while still guaranteeing the American people reform.”

Kate Pickert at Swampland at Time:

As I wrote in November, there’s no guarantee Republicans governors will embrace this 2014 opt-out waiver plan, which would have to pass through Congress to become law:

Aside from the political implications of endorsing a plan championed by a Democratic leader on health reform – even if he is in cahoots with a Republican from a blue state – some on the right might balk at the Wyden-Brown plan on the grounds that it’s still an expensive expansion of government. The Wyden-Brown plan, after all, does not – as far as I can tell – spend any less money than the ACA without a state opt-out. On the contrary, it may cost more.

The Wyden-Brown plan also does not impact the huge Medicaid expansion called for in the ACA, which Republicans vehemently oppose. It doesn’t eliminate taxes on expensive health insurance plans, or fees levied on medical devices or pharmaceuticals.

Another catch: The Wyden-Brown plan only allows states to opt out if they have a good plan for how to undertake comprehensive health care reform on their own. Most states don’t have such a plan. Massachusetts, which enacted reform in 2007, obviously does, which is why Brown was a logical co-sponsor of the opt-out bill. California, Connecticut and Vermont are three other states that are on their way toward developing health care reform inside their borders. But red states – especially southern states – are among those least equipped to design and implement reform that could accomplish what the ACA attempts to do, as they typically have higher percentages of uninsured residents and looser insurance regulation.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

As long as the HHS Secretary, whether it is Kathleen Sebelius or the next occupant of the office, has the final say on granting Obamacare waivers, then there is no real flexibility for states under Obamacare. All 50 of them would still be at the mercy of the whim of the HHS. The only real way to give states true flexibility on health care reform begins with the full repeal of Obamacare.

UPDATE: Politico confirms that Wyden-Brown has nothing to do with offering Obamacare critical states “flexibility” and everything to do with advancing single payer health care:

[A] White House conference call with liberal allies this morning says the Administration is presenting it to Democrats as an opportunity to offer more expansive health care plans than the one Congress passed.

Health care advisers Nancy-Ann DeParle and Stephanie Cutter stressed on the off-record call that the rule change would allow states to implement single-payer health care plans — as Vermont seeks to — and true government-run plans, like Connecticut’s Sustinet.

The source on the call summarizes the officials’ point — which is not one the Administration has sought to make publically — as casting the new “flexibility” language as an opportunity to try more progressive, not less expansive, approaches on the state level.

“They are trying to split the baby here: on one hand tell supporters this is good for their pet issues, versus a message for the general public that the POTUS is responding to what he is hearing and that he is being sensible,” the source emails.

Ezra Klein:

The question is whether this makes Wyden-Brown more or less likely to pass. I’m guessing less likely. The political theory behind Wyden-Brown was that it gave Republicans a constructive way to attack the Affordable Care Act: The waiver program could be sold as a critique of the law — “it’s such a bad bill that states need to write their own policy” — even as it entrenched the country’s basic commitment to universal health-care insurance. You could’ve imagined it being attached to the budget or one of the spending bills as part of a larger bargain.

But now that Obama has admitted it’s not a threat to the Affordable Care Act, a lot of the appeal for Republicans dissipates. Supporting it could even be seen as helping the White House in its efforts to defend the law against repeal. So the idea looks likelier to become a talking point for the administration — see how reasonable we’re being? — than an outlet for Republicans. But perhaps that doesn’t matter: Wyden-Brown hasn’t attracted any Republican co-sponsors beyond Scott Brown, so maybe it never had a chance of playing its intended part anyway.

Kevin Drum:

I suspect this is not as big a deal as it seems. Basically, Obama is calling the bluff of Republicans who insist that they can build a healthcare system that’s as extensive and affordable as PPACA using some combination of tea party-approved “free market” principles. He’s telling them to put their money (or, rather, money from the feds) where their mouths are, which will probably demonstrate fairly conclusively that they can’t do it. It’s possible that a state like Oregon might enact a more liberal plan that meets PPACA standards, but I doubt that Alabama or Tennessee can do it just with HSAs and high-deductible health plans.

Still, we’ll see. This is a chance for conservatives to show that they have a better healthcare answer in the real world, not just as talking points at a tea party rally. Obama is betting they’ll fail, and he’s also betting they’ll tear each other apart arguing over details while they do it. Life is easy when all you have to do is yell “Repeal Obamacare!” but it gets a lot harder when you have to produce an actual plan.

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Surprise, Surprise, Surprise…

Poster from the ACLU

Chris Strohm at The Atlantic:

Deserting and embarrassing their GOP House leadership, 26 Republicans–including several members of the Tea Party Caucus–bolted Tuesday night to join Democrats in a surprise rejection of a centerpiece of Bush-era powers to fight terrorism that curbed American civil liberties.

The House Republican leaders had expected an easy victory in their efforts to reauthorize three expiring powers under the PATRIOT Act–among them, allowing ”roving wiretaps” and searches of people’s medical, banking, and library records. It is likely the GOP will succeed in a later vote, but Tuesday night’s rebuff sent a strong message.

By a 277-148 margin, the bill fell just shy of the two-thirds majority needed to pass the House under suspension of the rules, representing somewhat of an embarrassment for House Republicans on a matter of national security. Republicans were accusing Democrats, many of whom had supported the extension of the provisions in the 111th Congress, of hypocrisy.

Robert Costa at The Corner:

“Believe me, House leadership was caught off guard,” says one Republican committee aide. “They really thought that they had everybody contained. They knew there would be a few defections, but they did not expect this group to try and out–Tea Party one another. The Ron Paul influence, especially on civil liberties, is stronger than you think.”

Monday’s vote was proffered under a suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority. Other House GOP aides tell NRO that the extension will likely brought up again via “regular orders” in the coming weeks; this requires a simple majority, and they expect it to pass.

The White House, one aide points out, will now be forced to work with Congress, especially with three provisions set to expire on February 28. The House GOP would like to extend the provisions until December 8; Senate Democrats and the White House would prefer extending the provisions through 2013, in order to take it off of the table for the election.

With the clock ticking, Republicans believe they can set the stakes, regardless of how they stumbled on the initial vote. On Monday, an aide close to the process notes, many Democrats who are supportive of a one-year extension voted against it, in order to stand with those who would like to see the provisions extended through 2013. So while Republicans will be whipping hard, to be sure, Democrats, too, he predicts, will be having their own internal debate about a short-term extension.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

The three amendments voted on last night have been extensively modified over the years and now include significant new safeguards, including substantial court oversight. They include:

Roving Surveillance Authority: Roving wiretaps have been used routinely by domestic law enforcement in standard criminal cases since the mid-1980s. However, national security agents did not have this garden-variety investigative tool until the passage of the PATRIOT Act in 2001. Section 206 of the PATRIOT Act allows law enforcement, after approval from the FISA court, to track a suspect as he moves from cell phone to cell phone. The government must first prove that there is “probable cause” to believe that the target is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power. It further requires continuous monitoring by the FISA court and substantial reporting requirements to that Court by the government.

Business Record Orders: Domestic law enforcement, working with local prosecutors, routinely rely on business records through the course of their investigations, oftentimes through the use of a subpoena. However, national security agents did not have the same authority to acquire similar evidence prior to the passage of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. This provision allows law enforcement, with approval from the FISA court, to require disclosure of documents and other records from businesses and other institutions (third parties) without a suspect’s knowledge. The third-party recipients of 215 orders can even appeal any order to the FISA court.

The Lone Wolf Provision: Section 6001 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act allows law enforcement to track non-U.S. citizens acting alone to commit acts of terrorism that are not connected to an organized terrorist group or other foreign power. While the FBI has confirmed that this section has never actually been used, it needs to be available if the situation arises where a lone individual may seek to do harm to the United States.

At least 36 known terrorist plots have been foiled since 9/11. The United States continues to face a serious threat of terrorism. National security investigators continue to need the above authorities to track down terror leads and dismantle plots before the public is any danger. Opponents of these provisions have produced little evidence of any PATRIOT Act misuse. All of the provisions above are subject to routine oversight by both the FISA court and Congress, and no single provision of the PATRIOT Act has ever been found unconstitutional. Congress should not let the sunset provisions expire and should instead seek permanent authorization.

David Weigel:

So did the Tea Party movement beat reauthorization? Here’s a list of the 26 Republicans who voted no. In italics — the eight members who were elected in 2010 in the Tea Party wave.

Justin Amash
Roscoe Bartlett
Rob Bishop
Paul Broun
John Campbell
John Duncan
Mike Fitzpatrick*
Chris Gibson
Tom Graves
Dean Heller
Randy Hultgren
Tim Johnson
Walter Jones
Jack Kingston
Raul Labrador
Connie Mack
Kenny Marchant
Tom McClintock
Ron Paul
Denny Rehberg
Phil Roe
Dana Rohrabacher
Bobby Schilling
David Schweikert
Rob Woodall

Don Young

Many of the big Tea Party names, like Michele Bachmann, Kristi Noem, and Allen West, voted to pass the authorization. I break this out because there’ll be a temptation to say “the Tea Party and its isolationist elements beat the reauthorization,” and that’s not quite it.

Glenn Greenwald:

But what happened last night highlights the potential to subvert the two-party stranglehold on these issues — through a left-right alliance that opposes the Washington insiders who rule both parties.  So confident was the House GOP leadership in commanding bipartisan support that they put the Patriot Act extension up for a vote using a fast-track procedure that prohibits debate and amendments and, in return, requires 2/3 approval.  But 26 of the most conservative Republicans — including several of the newly elected “Tea Party” members — joined the majority of Democratic House members in voting against the extension, and it thus fell 7 votes short.  These conservative members opposed extension on the ground that more time was needed to understand whether added safeguards and oversight are needed.

The significance of this event shouldn’t be overstated.  The proposed Patriot Act extension still commanded support from a significant majority of the House (277-148), and will easily pass once the GOP leadership brings up the bill for a vote again in a few weeks using the standard procedure that requires only majority approval.  The vast majority of GOP members, including the leading Tea Party representatives, voted for it.  The Senate will easily pass it.  And the scope of the disagreement even among the Democrats opposing it is very narrow; even most of the “no” votes favor extending these provisions, albeit with the types of tepid safeguards proposed by Leahy.  So in one sense, what happened last night — as is true for most political “victories” — was purely symbolic.  The White House will get what it wants.

But while it shouldn’t be overstated, there is a real significance here that also shouldn’t be overlooked.  Rachel Maddow last night pointed out that there is a split on the Right — at least a rhetorical one — between what she called “authoritarian conservatives” and “libertarian conservatives.”  At some point, the dogmatic emphasis on limited state power, not trusting the Federal Government, and individual liberties — all staples of right-wing political propaganda, especially Tea Party sloganeering — has to conflict with things like oversight-free federal domestic surveillance, limitless government detention powers, and impenetrable secrecy (to say nothing of exploiting state power to advance culture war aims).   Not even our political culture can sustain contradictions as egregious as (a) reading reverently from the Constitution and venerating limits on federal power, and then (b) voting to vest the Federal Government with extraordinary powers of oversight-free surveillance aimed at the American people.

Adam Serwer at Greg Sargent’s place:

Sadly, the revolt probably won’t last, as there are more than the 218 votes needed to pass reauthorization under normal procedures. What’s uncertain is whether the reauthorization will contain mild oversight provisions, and when the provisions will actually sunset. As Cato’s Julian Sanchez notes, there are two Democratic Senate versions that reauthorize these provisions for three years, but the Republican House version sunsets them until December 2011, while the Republican Senate proposal makes them permanent. Democratic Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy’s  version of the bill would reign in Section 215 orders and provide some key oversight over the use of the widely abused National Security Letters, but those modest reforms were too much for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), so she introduced an alternate bill without them.

The Republican House version places reauthorization right in the middle of presidential primary season, while the Democratic versions kick the can down the road three years. That means that we might be looking forward to the Republican candidates’ positions on the Patriot Act becoming an issue, which may lead to some irresponsible grandstanding about the necessity of passing the Patriot Act without any meaningful oversight. Remember “double Guantanamo?”

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Filed under Homeland Security, Legislation Pending

Congress, Can You Hear Me? Can You Feel Me Near You?

J. Taylor Rushing at The Hill:

The Senate on Tuesday morning defeated a proposal from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to ban congressional earmarks.

In a 39-56 vote, members defeated a temporary ban on the appropriations procedure. The moratorium was offered as an amendment to a food-safety bill that is scheduled for a final vote Tuesday morning.

Senate Republicans have already passed a voluntary ban on earmarks in their caucus, but several GOP senators have objected to it. Democrats have so far declined to ban earmarks from their members.

David Rogers at Politico:

Tuesday’s vote 56-39 vote on the moratorium contrasts with one last March in the Senate defeating a similar ban by a larger margin: 68-29.

Since November’s elections, the Senate Republican Conference has embraced a two-year moratorium beginning in the next Congress. Tuesday’s amendment, offered by Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, ups the ante by including this budget year and is very much in line with the thinking of incoming House Speaker John Boehner. (See: GOP backs earmarks ban in vote)

Coburn had hoped to get to 40 and was hurt by the defections of eight Republicans, many prominent in the Appropriations Committee. But the House GOP leadership has been unyielding thus far, and with the Democratic defections, hopes to put pressure on Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to accept a temporary ban.

In a recent private meeting, Boehner warned Reid, a long time veteran of the Appropriations process, that he would not accept any earmarks in the 2011 spending bills, according to several sources familiar with that discussion.

Andrew Stiles at The Corner:

Seven Democrats backed the proposal: Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.), Michael Bennett (Colo.), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Mark Udall (Colo.), and Mark Warner (Va.). All are either freshman members, retiring/defeated members, or up for reelection in 2012.

Eight Republicans, primarily members of the Appropriations Committee, went on the record against the ban: Sens. Bob Bennett (Utah), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), James Inhofe (Okla.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Richard Lugar (Ind.), Richard Shelby (Ala.), George Voinovich (Ohio).

As Cochran and other have made clear, everyone on that list — apart from Bennett (defeated in primary) and Voinovich (retiring) — should expect a primary challenge in their next election. Only Lugar is up in 2012, though he has been especially defiant in the face of criticism from the right, earning him a place in the heart of the The New York Times.

Even without a formal ban, pork-lovers are going to have a difficult time keeping the practice alive in the 112th Congress, with House and Senate Republicans voting to do away with earmarks on their own. Expect the GOP to continue its efforts to isolate Harry Reid and Senate Democrats on the issue.

Kevin D. Williamson at The Corner:

If you can’t trust these feckless Republicans on a little thing like earmarks, you can’t trust them on a big, hard thing like balancing the budget. I hope the Tea Party guys are planning to primary these clowns

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

Harvard research shows that states that experience an increase in earmark spending suffer from decreases in corporate capital expenditures and employment. Earmarking also robs money from local government transportation priorities to pay for Senator’s vanity projects. And there is a strong correlation between high numbers of earmarks high total spending by Congress.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

The earmark ban, like the freeze on pay for federal workers, is largely symbolic, but let’s be honest: symbols matter, and the voters are looking for signs that their lawmakers “get it.” With the few exceptions noted above, it seems that Democratic senators by and large don’t understand what’s afoot in the country. They remain oblivious at their own peril.

Jay Cost at The Weekly Standard:

I hope congressional Republicans recognize the stakes for this 112th Congress. Even though there is little hope of major policy breakthroughs, they are exceedingly high. It’s not just a matter of setting the 2012 election up nicely. The reputation of the Grand Old Party is on the line here. The Republican party has long been known as the party of fiscal responsibility. You vote for them not because you want to them to save the world — that’s what the liberal Democrats are for — but because they’re the serious fellows who insist on a balanced budget. Yet over the last couple of years the Republican Party in Congress has totally obliterated this image. And now they lose 20 percent of the Senate caucus over what is little more than a symbolic gesture on spending? That does not fill one with confidence.

Jim Harper at Cato:

This morning the full Senate voted down a proposed rule that would have barred earmarks for the next two years. Part of the reason? Earmarks are transparent.

Here’s Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), quoted in a Hill article:

There is full disclosure in my office of every single request for an appropriation. We then ask those who have made the requests to have a full disclaimer of their involvement in the appropriation, so it’s there for the public record. This kind of transparency is virtually unprecedented.

Senator Durbin doesn’t know transparency. Take a look at Senator Durbin’s earmark disclosures. Yes, you can read through them, one by one. But can you make a list of recipients? Can you add up the totals? Can you search for common words in the brief explanations for each earmark? Can you make a map showing where recipients of Senator Durbin’s requests are?

No, no, no, and no.

That’s because Senator Durbin puts his request disclosure out as scanned PDFs. Someone on his staff takes a letter and puts it on a scanner, making a PDF document of the image. Then the staffer posts that image on the senator’s web site. It’s totally useless if you want to use the data for anything. Notably, Senator Durbin doesn’t even include the addresses of his earmark recipients.

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Mele WikiLeakmaka Is The Thing To Say

David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy:

The subtitle of this blog has been “How the World is Really Run” since the day it was launched, an editor’s play on the title of a book I wrote. But I am today inclined to lend that subtitle out to the publishers of the most recent tidal wave of information from WikiLeaks. Because the 250,000 State Department cables contained in the release offer up no single revelation as striking as the overall message they contain: The dark shadowy world of diplomacy and international intrigue is working just about precisely as you suspect it is.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Quote of the year: “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” This from Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed in July 2009. And then there is this very astute comment from the Crown Prince: “‘Any culture that is patient and focused enough to spend years working on a single carpet is capable of waiting years and even decades to achieve even greater goals.’ His greatest worry, he said, ‘is not how much we know about Iran, but how much we don’t.'” Some of you recall the international kerfuffle that erupted when the U.A.E.’s ambassador to the United States told me at the Aspen Ideas Festival that a military strike on Iran may become a necessity. It turns out he was understating the fear and urgency felt by his government, and other Gulf governments.

3. Since we all know that only Israelis and their neocon supporters in America seek a military attack on Iran’s nuclear program, Bahrain must be under the control of neocons: “There was little surprising in Mr. Barak’s implicit threat that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. As a pressure tactic, Israeli officials have been setting such deadlines, and extending them, for years. But six months later it was an Arab leader, the king of Bahrain, who provides the base for the American Fifth Fleet, telling the Americans that the Iranian nuclear program ‘must be stopped,’ according to another cable. ‘The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it,'” he said.

The Saudis, too, are neocons, apparently: The Bahraini king’s “plea was shared by many of America’s Arab allies, including the powerful King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who according to another cable repeatedly implored Washington to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.”

4. How does Robert Gates know this? In a conversation with the then-French defense minister about the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran, the defense secretary “added a stark assessment: any strike ‘would only delay Iranian plans by one to three years, while unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against the attacker.'” I am not suggesting that I know this is untrue; I’m just puzzled at how someone could reach this conclusion so definitively.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

Foreign potentates and diplomats beware: the U.S. wants your DNA.

If that chief of mission seemed a bit too friendly at the last embassy party, it might be because the State Department recently instructed U.S. diplomats to collect biometric identification on their foreign interlocutors. The search for the most personal information of all is contained in WikiLeaks’ latest publication of tens of thousands of sensitive diplomatic cables.

A missive from the Secretary of State’s office in April 2009 asked diplomats in Africa to step up their assistance to U.S. intelligence. Not only should diplomats in Burundi, Rwanda and Congo collect basic biographical information on the people they talk to — a routine diplomatic function — but they should also gather “fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans.”

There’s no guidance listed on how exactly diplomats are supposed to collect the unique identifiers of “key civilian and military officials.” In recent years, the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan has built storehouses of biometric data to understand who’s an insurgent and who isn’t, all using small, portable eye and thumb scanners. But the State Department’s foray into bio-info collection hasn’t previously been disclosed.

Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast:

The hype-to-payoff ratio approximated Geraldo’s opening of Al Capone’s vaults. “Leaked Cables Uncloak U.S. Diplomacy,” hollered the headline on NYTimes.com. The latest WikiLeaks document dump, instructed the grey lady, offers an “extraordinary look at” American foreign policy that “is sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict.”

Then the Times began summarizing the documents, and the banalities began. Bullet Point 1: The U.S. is worried about loose nuclear materials in Pakistan but can’t do much about it. Bullet Point 2: American leaders are “thinking about an eventual collapse of North Korea” and hoping China will accept a reunified peninsula. Bullet Point 3: Washington is “bargaining [with various allies] to empty the Guantanamo prison.” Bullet Point 4: There are “suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government.” Bullet Point 5: The Chinese regime hacks into foreign computers. Bullet Point 6: Rich Saudis still fund al Qaeda. Bullet Point 7: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are tight. Bullet Point 8: Syria arms Hezbollah, but lies about it. Bullet Point 9: The U.S. tried to get Germany not to prosecute CIA agents accused of kidnapping. Bullet Point 10: Ireland is having financial trouble. (OK, I made that one up).

But maybe this isn’t fair. Maybe the cables, while mundane when taken in isolation, combine to provide a fascinating synthesis of America’s position in the world. Or maybe not. Overall, explained the Times, “The cables show that nearly a decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the dark shadow of terrorism still dominates the United States’ relations with the world…They depict the Obama administration struggling to sort out which Pakistanis are trustworthy partners against Al Qaeda…They show American officials managing relations with a China on the rise and a Russia retreating from democracy. They document years of painstaking effort to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon—and of worry about a possible Israeli strike on Iran with the same goal.” Valuable insights—if you’ve been living under a rock all century.

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist:

WikiLeaks’s release of the  “Collateral Murder” video last April was a pretty scrupulous affair: an objective record of combat activity which American armed forces had refused to release, with careful backing research on what the video showed. What we got was a window into combat reality, through the sights of a helicopter gunship. You could develop different interpretations of that video depending on your understanding of its context, but it was something important that had actually taken place.

Diplomatic cables are something entirely different. It’s part of the nature of human communication that one doesn’t always say the same thing to every audience. There are perfectly good reasons why you don’t always tell the same story to your boss as you do to your spouse. There are things Washington needs to tell Riyadh to explain what it’s just told Jerusalem and things Washington needs to tell Jerusalem to explain what it’s just told Riyadh, and these cables shouldn’t be crossed. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s inevitable. And it wouldn’t make the world a better place if Washington were unable to say anything to Jerusalem without its being heard by Riyadh, any more than it would if you were unable to tell your spouse anything without its being heard by your boss.

At this point, what WikiLeaks is doing seems like tattling: telling Sally what Billy said to Jane. It’s sometimes possible that Sally really ought to know what Billy said to Jane, if Billy were engaged in some morally culpable deception. But in general, we frown on gossips. If there’s something particularly damning in the diplomatic cables WikiLeaks has gotten a hold of, the organisation should bring together a board of experienced people with different perspectives to review the merits of releasing that particular cable. But simply grabbing as many diplomatic cables as you can get your hands on and making them public is not a socially worthy activity.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

There is nothing positive that can be said about the release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables by the rogue hacker organization WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks has recklessly and inexcusably put lives at risk. Any U.S. person who cooperated with WikiLeaks has committed a crime and should be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law.

That said, WikiLeaks is not the end of the world. The fundamentals of U.S. relationships with other nations remain unchanged. Leaks are not going to stop nations from cooperating with the U.S., or for that matter sharing secrets with us. Nations cooperate with the U.S. because it is in their interest to do so. And no leak will stop nations from acting in their self-interest.

But what is in our best interest? This has not been a good month for the Obama Doctrine: The President came home empty-handed from Asia, North Korea fired artillery at South Korea just days after revealing nuclear facilities no one knew they had, and Obama failed to get the G-20 to take any action limiting trade imbalances. It was not supposed to be this way. After apologizing for all of our nation’s sins, the world was supposed to swoon at President Obama’s unparalleled charisma. As American military power withered away, President Obama would use soft power and the United Nations to manage world affairs. But like Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter before him, this progressive foreign policy vision has failed.

Moe Lane:

Accused rapist Julian Assange* continued to justify the upcoming backlash against transparency this weekend by promising to illegally release more classified government documents on the notorious site Wikileaks. These documents in particular are apparently State Department diplomatic cables: up until, oh, today, those documents were typically much more blunt and ambiguity-free than the standard State Department bumpf, mostly because nobody out there considered that anyone would be insane enough to release them even if they had access. This will likely change – quickly – now that the diplomatic corps knows that its private communications are insecure; in other words, from now on the folks in the striped-pants brigade are going to be as mealy-mouthed in private as they are in public. As Allahpundit noted above, the Left should keep this in mind when trying in the future to boost State at Defense’s expense: Assange just made that harder for you.

And I will also note that, while I will happily ding President Obama for both his wrong actions and for not living up to his own side’s previously-established standards of behavior, this line of attack by Wikileaks is made up of pure garbage designed to weaken both my country and my government. The President needs his ambassadors to know what he wants; they need to be able to tell him what he can get. So it’s stupid to not be blunt and forthright in private about matters that require a softer public touch. It’s even more stupid for Wikileaks to keep publicly attacking the USA like this.

Because when the backlash comes, it’s going to splatter.

Steve Benen:

I would, however, like to know more about the motivations of the leaker (or leakers). Revealing secrets about crimes, abuses, and corruption obviously serves a larger good — it shines a light on wrongdoing, leading (hopefully) to accountability, while creating an incentive for officials to play by the rules. Leaking diplomatic cables, however, is harder to understand — the point seems to be to undermine American foreign policy, just for the sake of undermining American foreign policy. The role of whistleblowers has real value; dumping raw, secret diplomatic correspondence appears to be an exercise in pettiness and spite.

I’ve seen some suggestions that diplomats shouldn’t write cables that they’d be embarrassed by later if they were made publicly. I find that unpersuasive. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in the nuances of on-the-ground international affairs, but I am comfortable with the notion of some diplomatic efforts being kept secret. Quiet negotiations between countries can lead, and have led, to worthwhile foreign policy agreements, advancing noble causes.

If the argument from the leakers is that there should be no such thing as private diplomacy, they’ll need a better excuse to justify this kind of recklessness.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

The New York Times is participating in the dissemination of the stolen State Department cables that have been made available to it in one way or another via WikiLeaks. My friend Steve Hayward recalls that only last year the New York Times ostentatiously declined to publish or post any of the Climategate emails because they had been illegally obtained. Surely readers will recall Times reporter Andrew Revkin’s inspiring statement of principle: “The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here.”

Interested readers may want to compare and contrast Revkin’s statement of principle with the editorial note posted by the Times on the WikiLeaks documents this afternoon. Today the Times cites the availability of the documents elsewhere and the pubic interest in their revelations as supporting their publication by the Times. Both factors applied in roughly equal measure to the Climategate emails.

Without belaboring the point, let us note simply that the two statements are logically irreconcilable. Perhaps something other than principle and logic were at work then, or are at work now. Given the Times’s outrageous behavior during the Bush administration, the same observation applies to the Times’s protestations of good faith.

Amanda Carey at The Daily Caller:

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin took to her favorite mode of communication Monday – Facebook – and harshly criticized the Obama administration’s response to the latest WikiLeaks release.

In a post titled “Serious Questions about the Obama Administration’s Incompetence in the Wikileaks Fiasco,” Palin wrote that the most recent WikiLeaks disclosure of previously classified documents raises serious concerns about the administration’s “incompetent handling of this whole fiasco.”

Palin went on to ask what steps have been taken since the first WikiLeaks release to stop the organization’s director, Julian Assange, from distributing even more harmful material. Palin barely paused long enough for any one of her fans to shout a loud “none!” at their computer screens before going on to classify Assange as an “anti-American operative with blood on his hands”.

“Assange is not a ‘journalist,’ any more than the ‘editor’ of al Qaeda’s new English-language magazine Inspire is a ‘journalist,’” wrote Palin. “His past posting of classified documents revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban. Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?”

Megan Carpentier at TPM

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The End?

Laura Rozen at Politico:

In Morning Defense, POLITICO’s Jen DiMascio and Gordon Lubold make sense of the somewhat confusing drama last night as a convoy of troops from the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division crossed from Iraq into Kuwait:

OVERNIGHT — More than seven years after the U.S. invasion, the last U.S. combat troops rolled out of Iraq and into Kuwait in the early-morning darkness. That’s two weeks ahead of Barack Obama’s schedule, but it ain’t over ’til it’s over: A U.S. Army spokesman tells CBS that the U.S. still has “plenty of trigger-pullers there.”

THE PRESIDENT, IN OHIO: “We are keeping the promise I made when I began my campaign for the presidency. By the end of this month we will have removed 100,000 troops from Iraq and our combat mission will [end].”

THE AP’S REBECCA SANTANA IN KHABARI CROSSING, KUWAIT: “For these troops of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, it was a moment of relief fraught with symbolism. As their convoy reached the barbed wire at the border crossing out of Iraq on Wednesday, the soldiers whooped and cheered. Then they scrambled out of their stifling hot armored vehicles, unfurled an American flag and posed for group photos.” http://yhoo.it/dcT5Wj

It’s Thursday morning, and this is Morning Defense.

IRAQ BY THE NUMBERS, from Stars and Stripes:
U.S. troops killed: 4,414
U.S. troops wounded in action: 31,897
Number of U.S. troop amputees: 1,135
Iraqi civilian deaths: 113,166
War’s operating cost: $747.6 billion
Per American: $2,435; Per Iraqi: $25,828
Estimate of the total cost of the war: $3 trillion
Cost of maintaining 50,000 troops from now to end of 2011: $12.75 billion
Cost of medical care and disability compensation for Iraq war veterans over their lifetimes: $500 billion.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up

Grim at Blackfive:

4/2 SBCT rides out.

The 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which left Iraq this week, was the final U.S. combat brigade to be pulled out of the country….”Operation Iraqi Freedom ends on your watch!” exclaimed Col. John Norris, the head of the brigade.

“Hooah!” the soldiers roared, using an Army battle cry.

Shortly before midnight Saturday, a group of infantrymen boarded Stryker fighting vehicles, left an increasingly sparse base behind and began scanning the sides of a desolate highway for bombs. For many veterans, including some who made the same trip in the opposite direction years ago under fire, it was a fitting way to exit.

“They’re leaving as heroes,” Norris said of his soldiers. “I want them to walk home with pride in their hearts.”

They are heroes.  The advise and assist brigades, and the strong Special Operations contingent, remain behind for a time.  It’s a strange war that ends this way; but as Clausewitz said, war is the continuation of politics by other means.  We’re moving from war to a very tense political environment.  That’s more or less what we should expect.  What comes next?  Either compromise arises that allows tensions to ramp down, so that the political takes over from the war; or it goes the other way, and war blooms anew from the failure of politics.

Victor Davis Hanson at The Corner:

The departure of the last combat brigade from Iraq is full of symbolic weight.

1. President Obama, to his credit, dropped the nonsense from his candidacy about promising withdrawal by March 2008 and stuck to the Bush-Petraeus plan.

2. While there is violence in Iraq (as there is in Pakistan and in many nations of the Arab Middle East), the surge worked, broke the back of the resistance, and allowed some sort of consensual government to survive.

3. We are reminded by the departure that the campaign-constructed “bad” war in Iraq become okay in late 2008, while the okay war in Afghanistan turned bad, something candidate “Let me at ’em in Afghanistan” Obama probably never anticipated, as his post-campaign surprise seems to suggest.

4. We should remember that while the surge coincided with a booming economy, the departure is taking place against the backdrop of a deep recession, and borrowed money is now as big a consideration as grand strategy (e.g., it will be difficult to ever reinsert the troops at their former levels should the terrorists return) . . .

5. . . . but the 50,000-something troops left in Iraq are not weaponless, and with air support can in extremis aid the Iraqi security forces.

6. If the calm holds, George Bush will be seen in a rather different light than when he left in January 2009, not just because Iraq miraculously has functioned under a constitutional system for years now, but because we have seen how different governance is from perpetual campaigning. In the latter, the rhetorical choices are always good and bad, rather than bad and worse, as is the case when one must be responsible for consequences. In short, despite all the “war is lost,” the “surge is not working,” and the “General Betray Us,” Bush’s persistence paid off — and now Joe Biden, of erstwhile “trisect Iraq” fame, thinks that Iraq could be one of the Obama’s administration’s “greatest achievements.”

James Jay Carafano at The Corner:

In the waning days of World War II, the OSS gave FDR a briefing that would have turned his hair white, if it hadn’t been white already. The president was told to expect a sea of German saboteurs and assassins running rampant through post-war Europe. They would number in the tens of thousands. It might take years to quell the havoc.

The briefers were wrong. The Nazis did, indeed, have a “Werewolf” campaign to continue the fight after armistice, but it largely fizzled. Hundreds of thousands of American troops flooded back home sooner than expected.

Yet some stayed and, for reasons that shifted over the years, American troops remain there today. They remain in Japan and South Korea, too.

This history is not recited to suggest that Iraq is on the road to becoming the next South Korea, but it is a reminder of how the future unfolds. There is no predictable linear path, and in matters of war, everybody gets a vote — enemies as well as allies. Anyone who tells you today just how many troops will be in Iraq ten years hence and just what shape the country will be in is guessing just as much as the OSS agents who briefed FDR on the post-war nightmare that never came.

Here is what we know for sure. 1) Given the state of Iraq in 2006, the country is in a much better place today that any reasonable observer then dared hope. 2) Iraq is better off than it was in the age of Saddam. Now the country has a future, and it rests in the hands of its people. Bonus: The world is rid one of its most dangerous and bloodthirsty thugs. Yes, it was a heavy price. Freedom rarely comes cheap. 3) The surge worked. The surge never promised a land of “milk and honey.” It just promised to break the cycle of continuous, unrelenting violence, to give the new Iraqi political process a chance, and to allow the Iraqis time to build the capacity for their own security. It did that. 4) Things didn’t turn out the way Bush planned. But the vision — a free Iraq without Saddam — was achieved. Remember, things didn’t turn out the way FDR planned either. He said all the troops would be out of Europe in two years.

Here is what we don’t know. How much longer will U.S. troops need to stay there? The fact that the “combat” troops are gone does not mean that the mission is done or that U.S. troops won’t see some kinds of combat. While troops don’t and should not remain permanently in Iraq, they will obviously need to stay longer than one or two more years. Withdrawing U.S. forces too fast would jeopardize progress. Freedom may lose its momentum. Everything is contingent on events on the ground. There cannot even be serious discussions about the long-term U.S. presence until after an Iraqi government is formed.

John Negroponte at Foreign Policy:

Having landed in Baghdad as U.S. ambassador to Iraq at the end of June 2004, I find it a truly remarkable and positive accomplishment that we are able to look to the day not too far off when Iraqi security forces will be able to assume full and complete responsibility for their country’s security. At the time of my arrival, Iraqi security forces were, for all practical purposes, nonexistent. There was, for example, only one — yes, one — Iraqi army battalion and it was composed of various ethnic and sectarian elements. Today, there are some 600,000 Iraqi security forces and important strides have been made toward giving Iraq’s security organizations a national rather than partisan character. This is no small achievement; it has taken seven years to accomplish and only after some false starts and perilous moments.

In the wake of the Samarra Mosque bombing in 2006 and the ensuing sectarian strife, those of us concerned with Iraq could not have imagined the dramatic reversal of fortunes that would occur in the ensuing two years — the death of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the liberation of Basra by the Iraqi army, and the extension of the government’s authority to the country as a whole. By 2008, these improvements had given the government of Iraq the necessary self-assurance to negotiate the withdrawal arrangements that are now being implemented.

But can Iraq really remain stable once U.S. troops have completely withdrawn? While there are no guarantees, the prospects for Iraq’s security and stability beyond 2011 look as good or better than they have at any time in the recent past. The Iraqi army now has close to 200 trained combat battalions, a formidable increase from the somber days when I arrived in 2004, and they are spread throughout the country. The specter of sectarianism poisoning the ranks of Iraqi military and police forces remains the single most serious threat to be guarded against. But progress since the 2007 surge in nurturing the army and police as truly national institutions has been encouraging. Vigilance and political maturity will be needed to ensure that this positive trend continues.

Conn Carroll at Heritage

Max Boot at The Wall Street Journal:

Americans can take pride in how Iraq has developed. But have we truly “won” the war? That is a hard question to answer.

Opponents of the war effort—including Barack Obama and Joe Biden—once had an interest in saying that the war was unwinnable. Now they claim that we should sit back, relax and prepare for a smooth on-time departure. If only.

Iraq has made tremendous strides, but it still has a long way to go. Violence has fallen more than 90% since 2006. Al Qaeda in Iraq has lost most of its leadership. The Jaish al Mahdi, Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia, has been silenced. But this uneasy peace is still broken by too many acts of terrorism. One still reads headlines like this one, from earlier this week: “61 Killed in Bomb Attack on Iraqi Army Recruits.” Baghdad is considerably safer than it once was but is still more dangerous than Kabul, where I’ve also visited recently. Iraq had clean elections in March but still has no new government. Investors are holding off committing funds, the Iranians are licking their chops, and various militias are nervously fingering the triggers of their AK-47s.

Iraq’s future is still to be determined: Will it continue on the path of prosperity and democracy? Will it emerge as a key American ally in the Middle East? Or will it regress into civil war or dictatorship? U.S. forces still have a vital mission: to ensure that a newly sobered Iraq does not fall off the wagon and once again imbibe the deadly brew of ethno-sectarian violence.

The primary remaining military mission is to continue providing support to the Iraqi security forces. There are now 440,000 Iraqi police and 220,000 Iraqi soldiers, but they still lack the capacity to defend their own borders. The U.S. plans to deliver M-1 tanks and F-16 fighters to Iraq, but it will be many years before the Iraqis can operate such sophisticated weapons systems on their own. In the meantime they cannot even control their own air space; that will remain the job of American personnel. The U.S. Navy will continue to safeguard Iraq’s main oil export terminal near the southern city of Basra.

The remaining political mission is even more important—to reassure all sides in Iraq’s fractious politics that their opponents will not resort to the car bomb or the powerdrill-through-the-temple to get their way. Iraq is still recovering from the trauma of internecine bloodletting—as are, for example, Bosnia and Kosovo. In Bosnia it has been 15 years since the guns went silent; in Kosovo 11 years. In both places thousands of foreign troops remain to safeguard a fragile peace.

It would be the height of hubris—the kind once displayed by George W. Bush’s prematurely proclaimed “Mission Accomplished”—to suggest that Iraq, a country of more than 25 million, needs less help in its post-conflict transition than did the micro-states of the former Yugoslavia.

Allah Pundit:

The last combat troops are out and now 50,000, er, “advisors” remain. It’s not the end of the war, in other words, but as a not-so-grim milestone for a lot of guys who are no longer in harm’s way, it’s a moment worth celebrating. Rather than waste your time by blathering at you, let me give you some reading and viewing material. Watch the two clips below from NBC, which, to its credit, did a bang-up job in covering the occasion. And note well Col. Jack Jacobs’s reminiscence about being sent to Vietnam after combat had supposedly ended there too. The fighting isn’t over yet; the question is who’ll be doing it from now on. And the NYT has an answer sure to please liberals of all stripes: “Mercenaries.”

To protect the civilians in a country that is still home to insurgents with Al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias, the State Department is planning to more than double its private security guards, up to about 7,000, according to administration officials who disclosed new details of the plan. Defending five fortified compounds across the country, the security contractors would operate radars to warn of enemy rocket attacks, search for roadside bombs, fly reconnaissance drones and even staff quick reaction forces to come to the aid of civilians in distress, the officials said…

The department’s plans to rely on 6,000 to 7,000 security contractors, who are also expected to form “quick reaction forces” to rescue civilians in trouble, is a sensitive issue, given Iraqi fury about shootings of civilians by American private guards in recent years. Administration officials said that security contractors would have no special immunity and would be required to register with the Iraqi government. In addition, one of the State Department’s regional security officers, agents who oversee security at diplomatic outposts, will be required to approve and accompany every civilian convoy, providing additional oversight.

It’s the State Department’s show now, on an “unprecedented” scale for such a dangerous area. But can they run it with so few troops left in the country if the electoral stalemate between Maliki’s and Allawi’s factions blows up? (Ryan Crocker: “Our timetables are getting out ahead of Iraqi reality.”) That’s the story you want to read if you’re interested in the “what now?” angle. If you’re looking for something more human, i.e. troop reactions on finally getting to leave, MSNBC’s and WaPo’s pieces are the way to go.

UPDATE: James Joyner

Andrew Berdy at Tom Ricks place at Foreign Policy

Chris Bodenner at Andrew Sullivan’s place

UPDATE #2: Max Fisher at The Atlantic with another round-up

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They Have No Bread? Let Them Read American Spectator Articles!

Carol Platt Liebau at Townhall:

Angelo Codevilla has written a thought-provoking piece, positing that the great political conflict in this country is actually between the “ruling class” and the “country class.”

at The American Spectator:

As over-leveraged investment houses began to fail in September 2008, the leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties, of major corporations, and opinion leaders stretching from the National Review magazine (and the Wall Street Journal) on the right to the Nation magazine on the left, agreed that spending some $700 billion to buy the investors’ “toxic assets” was the only alternative to the U.S. economy’s “systemic collapse.” In this, President George W. Bush and his would-be Republican successor John McCain agreed with the Democratic candidate, Barack Obama. Many, if not most, people around them also agreed upon the eventual commitment of some 10 trillion nonexistent dollars in ways unprecedented in America. They explained neither the difference between the assets’ nominal and real values, nor precisely why letting the market find the latter would collapse America. The public objected immediately, by margins of three or four to one.

When this majority discovered that virtually no one in a position of power in either party or with a national voice would take their objections seriously, that decisions about their money were being made in bipartisan backroom deals with interested parties, and that the laws on these matters were being voted by people who had not read them, the term “political class” came into use. Then, after those in power changed their plans from buying toxic assets to buying up equity in banks and major industries but refused to explain why, when they reasserted their right to decide ad hoc on these and so many other matters, supposing them to be beyond the general public’s understanding, the American people started referring to those in and around government as the “ruling class.” And in fact Republican and Democratic office holders and their retinues show a similar presumption to dominate and fewer differences in tastes, habits, opinions, and sources of income among one another than between both and the rest of the country. They think, look, and act as a class.

Although after the election of 2008 most Republican office holders argued against the Troubled Asset Relief Program, against the subsequent bailouts of the auto industry, against the several “stimulus” bills and further summary expansions of government power to benefit clients of government at the expense of ordinary citizens, the American people had every reason to believe that many Republican politicians were doing so simply by the logic of partisan opposition. After all, Republicans had been happy enough to approve of similar things under Republican administrations. Differences between Bushes, Clintons, and Obamas are of degree, not kind. Moreover, 2009-10 establishment Republicans sought only to modify the government’s agenda while showing eagerness to join the Democrats in new grand schemes, if only they were allowed to. Sen. Orrin Hatch continued dreaming of being Ted Kennedy, while Lindsey Graham set aside what is true or false about “global warming” for the sake of getting on the right side of history. No prominent Republican challenged the ruling class’s continued claim of superior insight, nor its denigration of the American people as irritable children who must learn their place. The Republican Party did not disparage the ruling class, because most of its officials are or would like to be part of it.

Never has there been so little diversity within America’s upper crust. Always, in America as elsewhere, some people have been wealthier and more powerful than others. But until our own time America’s upper crust was a mixture of people who had gained prominence in a variety of ways, who drew their money and status from different sources and were not predictably of one mind on any given matter. The Boston Brahmins, the New York financiers, the land barons of California, Texas, and Florida, the industrialists of Pittsburgh, the Southern aristocracy, and the hardscrabble politicians who made it big in Chicago or Memphis had little contact with one another. Few had much contact with government, and “bureaucrat” was a dirty word for all. So was “social engineering.” Nor had the schools and universities that formed yesterday’s upper crust imposed a single orthodoxy about the origins of man, about American history, and about how America should be governed. All that has changed.

Today’s ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits. These amount to a social canon of judgments about good and evil, complete with secular sacred history, sins (against minorities and the environment), and saints. Using the right words and avoiding the wrong ones when referring to such matters — speaking the “in” language — serves as a badge of identity. Regardless of what business or profession they are in, their road up included government channels and government money because, as government has grown, its boundary with the rest of American life has become indistinct. Many began their careers in government and leveraged their way into the private sector. Some, e.g., Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, never held a non-government job. Hence whether formally in government, out of it, or halfway, America’s ruling class speaks the language and has the tastes, habits, and tools of bureaucrats. It rules uneasily over the majority of Americans not oriented to government.

The two classes have less in common culturally, dislike each other more, and embody ways of life more different from one another than did the 19th century’s Northerners and Southerners — nearly all of whom, as Lincoln reminded them, “prayed to the same God.” By contrast, while most Americans pray to the God “who created and doth sustain us,” our ruling class prays to itself as “saviors of the planet” and improvers of humanity. Our classes’ clash is over “whose country” America is, over what way of life will prevail, over who is to defer to whom about what. The gravity of such divisions points us, as it did Lincoln, to Mark’s Gospel: “if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”

Instapundit

DRJ at Patterico:

This American Spectator essay by Angelo M. Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University and former U.S. foreign service officer, is a must read for every American. Codevilla defines America’s ruling class and country class and reviews the decisions we Americans have made that will decide our and our children’s futures.

Implicit in Codevilla’s essay is the following question: Will Americans choose to be governed by a ruling class or will we return to self-governance by the country class? I think most blue states have already chosen the ruling class with its comfortable promises and European-style goals. I pray most red states and especially my fellow Texans will choose the Country Party, but at this point I have little hope it will be enough.

John Ballard at Newshoggers:

This weekend’s reading assignment is America’s Ruling Class — and the Perils of Revolution in American Spectator. Thanks to Memeorandum for bringing this piece to our attention. Only one commentary link so far, and comments there make think it may be a ton of lipstick, but I’m holding judgment until I read for myself.

Again, no, I haven’t read it yet. As I write it is printing out for me to read later, some fourteen thousand words plus. Much too long to sit here and digest at the computer monitor. If anyone else reads feel free to leave a comment and we can discuss it. I’ll do a followup later if the spirit moves me.

[…]

[A few hours later…]

I should have waited. This is a wasted post, along with several pages of ink used to print it out. I’m reminded of an exchange years ago told by a sales rep for a meat company.

Chicken farmer: “You know what that white stuff is in chicken shit?

Sales rep: “No, I never thought about it. What it is?”

Chicken farmer: “That’s chicken shit, too.”

By the end of the first page I counted half a dozen instances of spin preparing the reader to swallow what followed. Clearly the writer was breaking out more than a broad brush, a journalistic equivalent to a fire hose. I could hear Beck in the background railing about Progressives.

By the end of the second page it became fourteen pages of prose not unlike that which can be heard any time from conservative talk media. Somewhat turgid. Reading it is like driving in the rain with no windshield wipers. Turns out to be lipstick after all in a pathetic effort to legitimize the Tea Party.

Sorry to have furnished the links. I will do  better next time after due diligence. Steve and Joyner are too polite.

James Joyner, first quoting the piece:

Its attitude is key to understanding our bipartisan ruling class. Its first tenet is that “we” are the best and brightest while the rest of Americans are retrograde, racist, and dysfunctional unless properly constrained. How did this replace the Founding generation’s paradigm that “all men are created equal”?

This not only grossly exaggerates the attitudes of the current elites but confuses the flowery rhetoric of our Founding elite with their actual attitudes.  There’s not much doubt that the people who wrote and signed the Declaration and the Constitution were much less egalitarian than their successors.  Codevilla goes on the cherry pick history to demonstrate just the opposite:  An elite who became ever-more contemptuous of the unwashed masses.  After several paragraphs of this, he comes to:

Franklin Roosevelt brought the Chautauqua class into his administration and began the process that turned them into rulers. FDR described America’s problems in technocratic terms. America’s problems would be fixed by a “brain trust” (picked by him). His New Deal’s solutions — the alphabet-soup “independent” agencies that have run America ever since — turned many Progressives into powerful bureaucrats and then into lobbyists. As the saying goes, they came to Washington to do good, and stayed to do well.

As their number and sense of importance grew, so did their distaste for common Americans. Believing itself “scientific,” this Progressive class sought to explain its differences from its neighbors in “scientific” terms. The most elaborate of these attempts was Theodor Adorno’s widely acclaimed The Authoritarian Personality (1948). It invented a set of criteria by which to define personality traits, ranked these traits and their intensity in any given person on what it called the “F scale” (F for fascist), interviewed hundreds of Americans, and concluded that most who were not liberal Democrats were latent fascists. This way of thinking about non-Progressives filtered down to college curricula. In 1963-64 for example, I was assigned Herbert McCloskey’s Conservatism and Personality (1958) at Rutgers’s Eagleton Institute of Politics as a paradigm of methodological correctness. The author had defined conservatism in terms of answers to certain questions, had defined a number of personality disorders in terms of other questions, and run a survey that proved “scientifically” that conservatives were maladjusted ne’er-do-well ignoramuses. (My class project, titled “Liberalism and Personality,” following the same methodology, proved just as scientifically that liberals suffered from the very same social diseases, and even more amusing ones.)

The point is this: though not one in a thousand of today’s bipartisan ruling class ever heard of Adorno or McCloskey, much less can explain the Feuerbachian-Marxist notion that human judgments are “epiphenomenal” products of spiritual or material alienation, the notion that the common people’s words are, like grunts, mere signs of pain, pleasure, and frustration, is now axiomatic among our ruling class. They absorbed it osmotically, second — or thirdhand, from their education and from companions. Truly, after Barack Obama described his opponents’ clinging to “God and guns” as a characteristic of inferior Americans, he justified himself by pointing out he had said “what everybody knows is true.” Confident “knowledge” that “some of us, the ones who matter,” have grasped truths that the common herd cannot, truths that direct us, truths the grasping of which entitles us to discount what the ruled say and to presume what they mean, made our Progressives into a class long before they took power.

In reality, what we had was a government that took on more and more power in order to address the ills of society.   Maybe the practical difference is moot.  But the fact of the matter is that there was never an age when the governing class thought themselves the equal of the governed:  They’ve always thought themselves smarter and better.

Further, cherry picking statements like Obama’s unfortunate campaign slip obscures the fact that most politicians — especially on the Republican side — actually go out of their way to flatter the Real Americans who aren’t part of the Beltway Elite.   Indeed, elite has been a bad thing as long as I can remember.

Dan Riehl:

The essay breaks it down into a country class – the people, versus a ruling class – the establishment. Also, consider that, if the Democrat machine is better at gaining control of the levers of power and using them, the Republican Party is better at keeping its country class of would be followers down. That’s part of why we saw a Netroots on the Left, but chiefly see only more establishment-related punditry being elevated on the Right.

Of course, the Netroots is now being marginalized, even by the ruling Democrats, because it served its purpose. But there’s yet to be the same larger genuinely peopled-power movement on the Right, because the Republican ruling class is so set on marginalizing it, while funding more ruling class-related punditry in new media, before a more genuinely people-powered form of punditry ever rises up on the Right.

Take the ruling class away, and the real battle for America’s future is out here between the Left, Right and would be centrist blogs. Were it purely democratic, and not now largely formed by the flow of capital, I’m confident the center-Right would ultimately win out. It best reflects the views of a majority of the American people. So, I don’t fear the type of revolution upon which Codevilla speculates. But whether or not that battle ever truly takes place remains to be seen.

The so called conservative pundit class that is actually DC-centric punditry in new media is not our true ally. It functions more as a filter, or governor of our beliefs and desires as regards politics, than our enabler. And that will remain true until more people stop being nice to it, or fawning over it, simply because it has power and is purported to be wise. Its more truly Reaganesque thinking has long been corrupted by money, influence, access and power, just as has the GOP establishment.

Joyner responds to Riehl:

He approvingly cites the Ruling Class vs Country Class piece that I discussed in my previous post and, I gather, thinks that he’s doing his part of the latter by refusing to politely engage those on his side of the aisle who don’t see themselves as part of a religious war against the evil Left.

The problem with this, as Reagan himself noted, “somebody who agrees with you 80% of the time is an 80% friend not a 20% enemy.”  If David Frum and David Brooks and George Will are outcasts in the conservative movement, then Reagan’s “Big Tent” becomes a lean-to.  Winning such a war is thus a Pyrrhic victory.

It’s doubtless true that there are plenty of us in the right-of-center blogosphere who aren’t firebrands.   We’re not enamored of Sarah Palin and the Tea Parties. We support homosexual rights and an immigration policy based on reality rather than frustration.  But we’re still on the same side on most issues.

Further, Frum and Brooks and Will and the like are much more effective in articulating conservative ideas than those who preach to the choir.  If you treat people who disagree with you with contempt, they’ll rather quickly tune you out.  So, you’re left with firing up the people already carrying pitchforks.

To what end?

Ross Douthat:

For anyone with an appropriate skepticism toward meritocracy and its works, there’s an obvious critique of my suggestion, in today’s column, that America might be better off if our top-flight colleges welcomed more students from demographics — the white working class, rural America, evangelical Christians, etc. — that are currently viewed with suspicion and hostility by the highly-educated elite. Part of the problem with meritocracy is that it homogenizes in the name of diversity: It skims the cream from every race and class and population, puts all of the best and brightest through the same educational conveyor belt, and comes out with a ruling class that’s cosmetically diverse but intellectually conformist, and that tends to huddle together rather than spreading out to enrich the country as a whole. This is Christopher Lasch’s lament in “The Revolt of the Elites” — that meritocracy co-opts people who might otherwise become its critics, sapping local communities of their intellectual vitality and preventing any kind of rival power centers from emerging. And it’s something that Angelo Codevilla gets right (while getting a number of other things wrong) in his recent blast against the American elite:

Never has there been so little diversity within America’s upper crust. Always, in America as elsewhere, some people have been wealthier and more powerful than others. But until our own time America’s upper crust was a mixture of people who had gained prominence in a variety of ways, who drew their money and status from different sources and were not predictably of one mind on any given matter. The Boston Brahmins, the New York financiers, the land barons of California, Texas, and Florida, the industrialists of Pittsburgh, the Southern aristocracy, and the hardscrabble politicians who made it big in Chicago or Memphis had little contact with one another … Nor had the schools and universities that formed yesterday’s upper crust imposed a single orthodoxy about the origins of man, about American history, and about how America should be governed. All that has changed … Today’s ruling class, from Boston to San Diego, was formed by an educational system that exposed them to the same ideas and gave them remarkably uniform guidance, as well as tastes and habits.

With this in mind, one could easily argue that it would be terrible for America if the meritocratic elite admitted more members of what Codevilla calls the “country party” to its ranks, because that would represent the final victory of centralization and homogenization over local allegiances and competing power centers. Once inside the machinery of meritocracy, aspiring farmers would become bureaucrats, R.O.T.C. cadets would enter investment banks, and evangelicals and Mormons would join the ranks of purely secular do-gooders. Better for such young people, and for the country, if they’re educated locally and stay local, rather than ascending and leaving their communities behind.

My only rebuttal to this argument would be the somewhat pessimistic point that centralization is very difficult to roll back, that some sort of broad national elite is probably here to stay, and that given those premises it may make more sense to create more room for real diversity within that elite — by holding meritocracy to its professed ideals — than to hope vainly for a localist revolution that undercuts the ruling class’s political and cultural authority. But good intentions often go awry, and I concede the possibility that this prescription could only end up making America’s current divisions even worse.

Tim Fernholz at Tapped:

The key fact that Douthat never returns to is that Buchanan is homophobic, racist, and anti-Semitic. Those despicable Ivy Leaguers are right! There is also plenty of evidence that Buchanan is wrong — starting with the fact that a plurality of Ivy Leaguers are white Christians. So Douthat has to draw a narrower case — that America’s elite colleges discriminate against not just white Christians but working-class, rural white Christians. Oh, and the presumption is that they must be his kind of Christian — you can’t be liberal and Christian, or “elite” and a Christian. As Adam notes, what discrimination exists comes down to a question of class, not culture.

Douthat’s second strange equivocation is the concern he is trolling — that the lack of interaction between poor white Christians and liberals creates a dangerous paranoia between groups in this country. (As a side note, I’d love to know how much time Douthat spends with white, rural, working-class Christians himself.) He observes that conservative-leaning white voters think Obama is a “foreign-born Marxist,” among other conspiracies, while liberals perceive an increase in “crypto-Klansmen and budding Timothy McVeighs.”

Once again, the conspiracy theories of the conservatives have no basis in reality. Meanwhile, the idea that liberals see right-wing conspiracies “everywhere they look” reveals that Douthat has as little knowledge of liberals as he does of rural, working-class whites. Liberals do fret that the Tea Party and like-minded right-wing groups are providing an outlet for racist and violent sentiments, but that’s only because the Tea Parties do provide an outlet for racist sentiments — and McVeigh-types have already attacked federal buildings and been arrested for plotting similar escapades.

This is the worst kind of opinion column, a sort of tease — Douthat airs competing claims but declines to weigh in on either side, instead offering a mealymouthed support for a kind of soft affirmative action for, well, he doesn’t quite say white Christians, which is where he began his column, but for those whom he believes are culturally affiliated with white Christians.

Douthat responds:

The “competing claims” I aired, so far as I can tell, were what I consider the more unfortunate paranoias of left and right — and yes, I do decline to throw my support to either side. As for my “mealymouthed” conclusion, Fernholz basically gets it right: I  support, albeit with some ambivalence, a kind of soft affirmative action on elite campuses for the sort of Americans — Southern and Midwestern, blue-collar and rural — who are much more likely than the current population of the Ivy League to be conservative white Christians.

This doesn’t mean that I want to see some kind of “evangelical quota” at elite schools. It just means that I regard greater religious and ideological diversity as a likely (and happy) consequence of greater socioeconomic and geographic diversity. And not, I should note, because white Christians from Montana or Alabama are hapless victims whose sufferings need to be redressed. It’s just that so long as top-tier colleges claim to be in the business of molding a suitable national elite for a country as vast and varied as the United States (as opposed to just admitting the absolute smartest people possible, regardless of race or class or ideology or geography), they have an obligation to extend their idea of “diversity” to encompass many more factors than just race and ethnicity. (The same goes for elite faculties, too, but that’s another story …)

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect:

Douthat never actually suggests that the admissions process relies too much on factors that favor the wealthy — he merely suggests that minorities are getting too many of the scraps and that lower-class whites are therefore correct to fight with people of color for the gristle being tossed under the table. Douthat never questions — and these days few do — the implicit size of the pie retained by the wealthy, as though being born into the type of family that can afford to send you to Andover is a matter of individual merit. It’s possible to argue that both African Americans and lower-class whites are underrepresented on elite college campuses — not exactly hotbeds of racial diversity either — but Douthat doesn’t make that argument.

More frustrating is the way Douthat uses this single study to conclude that Buchanan — and by extension the conservative grievance mongers arguing that there’s an “advantage” to being a Latino jurist given Sonia Sotomayor‘s rise to the Supreme Court (percentage of Supreme Court Justices who have been Latino, .009 percent, percentage who have been white, 98 percent), that there’s some truth about the idea that the Obama Justice Department won’t protect white voters (false) and the idea that the Affordable Care Act was “reparations” (47 percent of the uninsured are white) are actually onto something about white Christians being discriminated against. It seems a little odd to extrapolate from this single study on affirmative action in college admissions that white Christians as a whole are having a harder time in life than everyone else, given that a white guy just getting out of prison has an easier time finding a job than a black man who has never been. If you’re white and lower class, by the time you get out of college you’ve picked up enough to know how to fake the requisite social markers — if you’re black, you’re still black.

When you get down to it, Douthat’s right that being a white Christian is actually easier if you have oodles of money, but when has being broke in America, regardless of race, ever been easy? Douthat’s implicit conclusion isn’t really that we should expand the share of the pie at elite institutions to the underrepresented as a whole; it’s  to wave his foam finger for one group of underrepresented people over another.

Daniel Foster at NRO:

I’m disappointed by both Tim Fernholz’s and Adam Serwer’s takes on Ross Douthat’s column yesterday. Responding to empirical evidence that poor, white Christians are among the least well-represented “minority” groups at elite colleges, they both more or less default to saying ‘yeah, well, it sucks to be poor.’

Except Douthat’s point is that, when it comes to elite college admissions, it sucks more to be poor and white than it does to be poor and black, and a fortiori, that poor blacks’ chances improve as they get poorer, while just the opposite is the case for whites. Either Serwer and Fernholz are okay with this or they aren’t. But they won’t say, leaving us to assume that they view it as acceptable collateral damage in the battle for diversity.

They also dismiss as so much whining the feelings of alienation from “elite” culture felt by poor, working class whites — at their peril and ours.

I know, this sounds dangerously mushy-headed for a card-carrying conservative, and I’m not saying our top national priority should be the self-esteem of blue-collar whites. But that poor whites feel disenfranchised from participation in “elite” institutions is a problem whether or not they actually are, all the more so since we live with a political culture that tells them they have nothing to complain about. In some cases, feelings of discrimination become consequentially indistinguishable from actual discrimination. So when smarmy liberals look at poor gun-and-religion-clinging whites and ask what’s the matter with Kansas, this is part of the answer.

Arnold Kling, going back to the original subject:

I put the essay in a class that I call “neo-reactionary.” Other writing in this vein ranges from the best-selling (Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism) to the obscure (Mencius Moldbug’s old blog posts) to somewhere in between (Arthur Brooks’ The Battle, which I still have not read.)I call the outlook neo-reactionary because it is sort of like neoconservatism with the gloves off.

Some core beliefs that I share with the neo-reactionaries:

1. At its worst, Progressive ideology is an ideology of power. It justifies the technocratic few infringing on the liberty and dignity of the many.

2. At their worst, Progressives are intellectual bullies. They delegitimize rather than attempt to persuade those who disagree with them.

3. American government has become structurally less libertarian and less democratic in recent decades. For example, Codevilla writes,

The grandparents of today’s Americans (132 million in 1940) had opportunities to serve on 117,000 school boards. To exercise responsibilities comparable to their grandparents’, today’s 310 million Americans would have radically to decentralize the mere 15,000 districts into which public school children are now concentrated. They would have to take responsibility for curriculum and administration away from credentialed experts, and they would have to explain why they know better. This would involve a level of political articulation of the body politic far beyond voting in elections every two years.

Amen. I live in one of those mega-school districts, which gives unbridled power to the teachers’ unions. The widely-unread Unchecked and Unbalanced has much more on this theme. (Note to intellectual bullies: please do not confuse nostalgia for decentralized school districts with nostalgia for “separate but equal.”)Where I part company with the neo-reactionaries (and for all I know, Jonah Goldberg parts company a bit as well) is on the following:

1. Brink Lindsey has a point. The Progressives are not wrong on everything, and conservatives are not right on everything.

2. Tyler Cowen has a point. Manichean, confrontational politics is a dubious project. Questioning your own beliefs can be more valuable than issuing a call to arms to those who share them.

3. Tyler Cowen has another point. Do not think that the majority of people are libertarians. Both Codevilla and Arthur Brooks assert, with evidence I regard as flimsy at best, that two-thirds of the country is on their neo-reactionary side. I strongly doubt that, and even if it were true I do not believe that democratic might makes right.

I think that ideology is partly endogenous. I do not think that it is an accident that an ideology of rational technocratic control grew up as America urbanized and as enormous scale economies emerged in the industries made possible by the internal combustion engine, the electric motor, radio, and television. I do not think it is an accident that the Progressive ideology will be challenged as the Internet starts to alter the economy and society, reducing the comparative advantage of mass production and mass media while increasing the comparative advantage of local autonomy and individual expression. The Internet serves as a constant reminder of the wisdom of Hayek.

We live in interesting times.

UPDATE: More Douthat

Tim Fernholz and Conn Carroll at Bloggingheads

UPDATE: More Douthat

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It’s Getting Hot In Here, So Turn Off All Your AC

Stan Cox in WaPo:

Washington didn’t grind to a sweaty halt last week under triple-digit temperatures. People didn’t even slow down. Instead, the three-day, 100-plus-degree, record-shattering heat wave prompted Washingtonians to crank up their favorite humidity-reducing, electricity-bill-busting, fluorocarbon-filled appliance: the air conditioner.

This isn’t smart. In a country that’s among the world’s highest greenhouse-gas emitters, air conditioning is one of the worst power-guzzlers. The energy required to air-condition American homes and retail spaces has doubled since the early 1990s. Turning buildings into refrigerators burns fossil fuels, which emits greenhouse gases, which raises global temperatures, which creates a need for — you guessed it — more air-conditioning.

A.C.’s obvious public-health benefits during severe heat waves do not justify its lavish use in everyday life for months on end. Less than half a century ago, America thrived with only the spottiest use of air conditioning. It could again. While central air will always be needed in facilities such as hospitals, archives and cooling centers for those who are vulnerable to heat, what would an otherwise A.C.-free Washington look like?

At work

In a world without air conditioning, a warmer, more flexible, more relaxed workplace helps make summer a time to slow down again. Three-digit temperatures prompt siestas. Code-orange days mean offices are closed. Shorter summer business hours and month-long closings — common in pre-air-conditioned America — return.

Business suits are out, for both sexes. And with the right to open a window, office employees no longer have to carry sweaters or space heaters to work in the summer. After a long absence, ceiling fans, window fans and desk fans (and, for that matter, paperweights) take back the American office.

Best of all, Washington’s biggest business — government — is transformed. In 1978, 50 years after air conditioning was installed in Congress, New York Times columnist Russell Baker noted that, pre-A.C., Congress was forced to adjourn to avoid Washington’s torturous summers, and “the nation enjoyed a respite from the promulgation of more laws, the depredations of lobbyists, the hatching of new schemes for Federal expansion and, of course, the cost of maintaining a government running at full blast.”

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

… but a productive workday and a good night’s sleep is way too important for me to long for the halcyon, hot days of yesteryear.

Kathy Kattenburg at Moderate Voice:

Full disclosure: I worship air conditioning. Although I didn’t grow up with it, it would be very difficult for me to live without it now. And that is one part (among many others) of why Cox’s argument, in my view, is so foolish.

First, let me be clear about what I am NOT saying, or suggesting. I am not saying, or suggesting, that global warming is not a problem. It’s a problem. In fact, it’s an existential problem — more so even than global terrorism, because worldwide climate change contributes to conditions that exacerbate terrorism. By contrast, terrorism does not contribute to conditions that exacerbate global warming.

I am also not saying, or suggesting, that Cox is wrong to indict air conditioning’s electricity-hogging, fluorocarbon-producing nature as a prime contributor to global warming. Anything that uses massive amounts of electricity and/or puts more carbon into the atmosphere has to be taken seriously as one ingredient in global climate change. However, that does not mean that the industrialized world can simply give up air conditioning, or cut back on its use to the extent that would be needed to make a significant difference.

Reality sometimes does bite, and the reality is that even though most people over the age of 50 did not grow up with air conditioning, and yet somehow survived despite that; and even though before the use of air conditioning became widespread and common in everyday life, people found ways to stay cool (or cooler) that actually and demonstrably were effective, over the past 40 years, at least, Americans have gotten used to NOT having to suffer in the heat, and you can’t just wish that away. Also, and perhaps even more pointed as a counterargument, air conditioning has fueled (literally, I suppose) an entire way of life, in every possible sense — economically and socially and in many other ways. The widespread use of air conditioning, and the growing affordability of residential air conditioning and its use in offices and other workplaces, made possible such socioeconomic phenomena as “the Sunbelt” — a term that connotes a vast region of the United States that attracts jobs, industry, tourism, and retirees. I don’t have confirming statistics at my fingertips, but I’m nevertheless reasonably confident, that air conditioning has saved lives and helped to increase longevity in general. The U.S. economy as it exists today would not be possible without air conditioning.

Now, when I say this, I do NOT intend to imply that changes in the way the U.S. economy operates are not needed — I mean, God and TMV’s readers know that! I am not saying it might not be a good idea to reduce our dependence on air conditioning, or that Cox’s substantive arguments do not have merit.

The salient, central point, for me, is that it’s simply not realistic to expect that the kind of massive shifts in demographics, in lifestyles, in economic patterns, that have occurred as the result in large part of air conditioning could just be reversed, because Stan Cox says that we’ve gotten too used to air conditioning. It took half a human lifetime for these shifts to develop — they did not do so overnight. If we as a people want to change that, it cannot be done by fiat, and it certainly cannot be done by exhortatory op-ed pieces.

Iain Murray at The Corner:

Many of the so-called solutions the green movement proposes consist of turning back the clock and relying on technology we left behind decades, even centuries ago: They want us to use windmills and railroads, use more land for crops (and thereby less for forests), and burn plants to make energy. Now, there has come along a fellow who thinks air conditioning is a bane rather than a boon and hankers for the offices of the 1940s

[…]

I suggest Congress and government agencies lead by example and adopt this rule of no air conditioning immediately. In fact, I’m sure it must be somewhere in Speaker Pelosi’s Greening the Capitol initiative. Questions should be asked on the floor as to why they’re running the AC this week.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

Doesn’t the AC-free enviro-dream world sound wonderful? Daily summertime siestas, shorter business hours, even some days completely off! But as with all enviro-leftist schemes, the heavy costs of their low energy utopian dream are being ignored. Slower workdays means less productivity. Shorter hours and closed offices mean lost profits for employers.

This is just the latest way the left wants to control our lives under the banner of global warming. They also want to control what we eat, how we travel, and where we live. Even how we go to the bathroom.

Ann Althouse:

AND: Here are some more things I want to see from you to prove that you really believe in global warming.

1. Your weight should be at the low end of normal, indicating that you are not overconsuming the products of agriculture.

2. You should not engage in vigorous physical exercise, as this will increase your caloric requirements. You may do simple weight-lifting or calisthenics to keep in shape. Check how many calories per hour are burned and choose a form of exercise that burns as few calories as possible.

3. Free time should be spent sitting or lying still without using electricity. Don’t run the television or music playing device. Reading, done by sunlight is the best way to pass free time. After dark, why not have a pleasant conversation with friends or family? Word games or board games should replace sports or video games.

4. Get up at sunrise. Don’t waste the natural light. Try never to turn on the electric lights in your house or workplace. Put compact fluorescent bulbs in all your light fixtures. The glow is so ugly that it will reduce the temptation to turn them on.

5. Restrict your use of transportation. Do not assume that walking or biking is less productive of carbon emissions than using a highly efficient small car. Do not go anywhere you don’t have to go. When there is no food in the house to make dinner, instead of hopping in the car to go to the grocery store or a restaurant, take it as a cue to fast. As noted above, your weight should be at the low end of normal, and opportunities to reach or stay there should be greeted with a happy spirit.

6. If you have free time, such as a vacation from work, spend it in your home town. Read library books, redo old jigsaw puzzles, meditate, tell stories to your children — the list of activities is endless. Just thinking up more items to put on that list is an activity that could be on the list. Really embrace this new way of life. A deep satisfaction and mental peace can be achieved knowing that you are saving the earth.

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Mitt Writes An Op-Ed

Mitt Romney in WaPo:

Given President Obama’s glaring domestic policy missteps, it is understandable that the public has largely been blinded to his foreign policy failings. In fact, these may have been even more damaging to America’s future. He fought to reinstate Honduras’s pro-Chávez president while stalling Colombia’s favored-trade status. He castigated Israel at the United Nations but was silent about Hamas having launched 7,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip. His policy of “engagement” with rogue nations has been met with North Korean nuclear tests, missile launches and the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, while Iran has accelerated its nuclear program, funded terrorists and armed Hezbollah with long-range missiles. He acceded to Russia’s No. 1 foreign policy objective, the abandonment of our Europe-based missile defense program, and obtained nothing whatsoever in return.

Despite all of this, the president’s New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New-START) with Russia could be his worst foreign policy mistake yet. The treaty as submitted to the Senate should not be ratified.

New-START impedes missile defense, our protection from nuclear-proliferating rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. Its preamble links strategic defense with strategic arsenal. It explicitly forbids the United States from converting intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos into missile defense sites. And Russia has expressly reserved the right to walk away from the treaty if it believes that the United States has significantly increased its missile defense capability.

Hence, to preserve the treaty’s restrictions on Russia, America must effectively get Russia’s permission for any missile defense expansion. Moscow’s vehemence over our modest plans in Eastern Europe demonstrate that such permission would be extremely unlikely.

The treaty empowers a Bilateral Consultative Commission with broad latitude to amend the treaty with specific reference to missile defense. New START does something the American public would never countenance and the Senate should never permit: It jeopardizes our missile defense system.

The treaty also gives far more to the Russians than to the United States. As drafted, it lets Russia escape the limit on its number of strategic nuclear warheads. Loopholes and lapses — presumably carefully crafted by Moscow — provide a path to entirely avoid the advertised warhead-reduction targets. For example, rail-based ICBMs and launchers are not mentioned. Similarly, multiple nuclear warheads that are mounted on bombers are effectively not counted. Unlike past treaty restrictions, ICBMs are not prohibited from bombers. This means that Russia is free to mount a nearly unlimited number of ICBMs on bombers — including MIRVs (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles) or multiple warheads — without tripping the treaty’s limits. These omissions would be consistent with Russia’s plans for a new heavy bomber and reports of growing interest in rail-mobile ICBMs.

Under New START, the United States must drastically reduce our number of launchers but Russia will not — it already has fewer launchers than the treaty limits. Put another way: We give, Russia gets. And more troubling, the treaty fails to apply the MIRV limits that were part of the prior START treaty. Again, it may not be coincidental that Russia is developing a new heavy-load — meaning MIRV-capable — ICBM.

New-START gives Russia a massive nuclear weapon advantage over the United States. The treaty ignores tactical nuclear weapons, where Russia outnumbers us by as much as 10 to 1. Obama heralds a reduction in strategic weapons from approximately 2,200 to 1,550 but fails to mention that Russia will retain more than 10,000 nuclear warheads that are categorized as tactical because they are mounted on missiles that cannot reach the United States. But surely they can reach our allies, nations that depend on us for a nuclear umbrella. And who can know how those tactical nuclear warheads might be reconfigured? Astonishingly, while excusing tactical nukes from the treaty, the Obama administration bows to Russia’s insistence that conventional weapons mounted on ICBMs are counted under the treaty’s warhead and launcher limits.

By all indications, the Obama administration has been badly out-negotiated. Perhaps the president’s eagerness for global disarmament led his team to accede to Russia’s demands, or perhaps it led to a document that was less than carefully drafted.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

You can find The Heritage Foundation’s work on the treaty here, including The New START Working Group’s Independent Assessment of New START.

Dan Riehl:

Mitt Romney goes after Obama on foreign policy in the Washington Post. He’s correct on START as negotiated being a non-starter. That was clear a month or two ago when the negotiations wrapped up.

What I find more interesting is the politics Romney is pursuing. He’s been playing the usual game for a potential 2012 nominee. Raising money, campaigning for candidates in this or that race. Mostly pure establishment stuff that builds a network, but does less to stay engaged with the base.

So, today it’s time for Romney to show some foreign policy chops and engage the masses. And as politicians have done for decades, he takes to the Post. Of course, he could have simply posted to a Facebook page. But that wouldn’t be good establishment politics. And Romney’s establishment rep could be one of his biggest obstacles assuming he’s serious about 2012. In a new media and political world, Romney looks decidedly old, though I did support him in 2008.

Marc Ambinder:

Unlike other potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney does not approach every potential political target as if he were carrying a machine gun on hair trigger alert.

That has allowed him to stay quiet when fellow Republicans try to outshout each other.  Romney has stuck a few core issues, like the economy and foreign policy. He mostly avoided the health care debate, if only to try and minimize the comparisons Republicans made to his 2006 health care law. On social issues, he’s kept mum. If he decides to run for president, it will be in the mold of a conservative pragmatist grounded in American exceptionalism, a topic that has fascinated Romney for years.  Mr. Romney subscribes to the point of view that a strong America is not an America that humbles itself; that Obama’s penchant for finding non zero sum opportunities in the post 9-11 world is naive.  Romney is not a native speaker of this language, but he has surrounded himself with advisers who speak nothing else.

When Romney does choose to intervene in the political debate, it is often with great care. His op-ed in this morning’s New York Post uses some of his starkest language to date, calling Obama’s START treaty with Russia his “worst foreign policy mistake yet.”  Does he believe opposition to Senate ratification is a political winner?  As the privately acknowledged “invisible primary” frontrunner, is he attempting to use what leverage he has to make sure that his party does not capitulate on this issue, depriving him of the chance to draw a clear contrast with Obama?  Or does he see this as an opportunity to burnish his foreign policy chops ahead of 2012? (I’ll have a post later that goes into the substance of his op-ed.)

Daniel Larison here and here. Larison:

How many dishonest and misleading things can Mitt Romney pack into one op-ed? There are a few. Romney’s first lie was remarkably brazen even for him:

He [Obama] castigated Israel at the United Nations but was silent about Hamas having launched 7,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip.

Neither of these things happened. One will look in vain for any speech Obama has ever given in which he actually castigated Israel, but it is even more certain that he never did this at the U.N. Castigate means censure, and if there is one thing Obama has never done it is censure Israel. The only thing Obama has been silent about with regard to Gaza was the excessive military operations Israel launched there immediately before he took office. A couple sentences later, Romney lies about missile defense in Europe:

He acceded to Russia’s No. 1 foreign policy objective, the abandonment of our Europe-based missile defense program, and obtained nothing whatsoever in return.

The missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic were scrapped, and they have since been replaced by proposed new installations in southeastern Europe. Unlike the previous plan, which guarded against non-existent Iranian ICBMs, this one could theoretically defend against medium-range missiles that Iran actually has. So missile defense in Europe has not been abandoned, and despite what Moscow may say the Prague treaty apparently does not rule out missile defense, either, so Romney is complaining about something that hasn’t happened.

Romney repeats a common misrepresentation of the Prague treaty, which is that it “impedes missile defense.” Dr. Jeffrey Lewis had a very useful review of the relevant parts of the new treaty that he wrote earlier this year, and his conclusion is worth citing here:

I think it is very hard to conclude that the treaty “limits” missile defenses. The treaty may have some implications for missile defense programs, but on the whole it is written in such a way as to create space for current and planned missile defense programs, including language that exempts interceptors from the definition of an ICBM [bold mine-DL] and the provision to “grandfather” the converted silos at Vandenberg.

Still, I suspect we will continue hear from some quarters that the treaty “limits” missile defense. This is a form of special pleading. The common-sense test is that no one would claim that the treaty “limits” conventional bombers, despite some provisions to separate conventional bombers from their nuclear-equipped brethren. By any consistent standard, the treaty limits neither.

As for Romney’s objection that the treaty “explicitly forbids the United States from converting intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos into missile defense sites,” Dr. Lewis makes what seems like a very sensible observation:

The advantages of this are obvious: otherwise, you would have Russian inspectors crawling all over US missile defense interceptors to ensure they weren’t stocked with contraband treaty-limited equipment.

In other words, this is something that seems like a concession but which could actually aid the development of missile defense.

Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb recently wrote an op-ed in support of the treaty that addressed the missile defense question:

While some have alleged that the New START treaty will inhibit missile defense, this claim has been strongly refuted by Republican elder statesmen in their Senate testimony on the treaty. Former Secretary of State James Baker stated plainly, “There is, in fact, no restriction on the United States of America’s ability to move forward on missile defense in whatever way it wants.” Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft was equally direct, testifying, “The treaty is amply clear, it does not restrict us … I don’t think there’s substance to this argument.”

In fact, Baker and Scowcroft are joined in supporting the treaty by almost every senior Republican national security leader from the past three decades, including Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Schlesinger, George W. Bush’s National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and the Senate’s foremost current expert on nuclear policy, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana. They are joined by leading Democratic national security leaders, such as former Defense Secretary William Perry and former senator Nunn.

Romney’s other objections are more technical, but they don’t appear to be much better. One of the standard objections to the new treaty has been that warhead reduction could do Russia a favor, because Russia does not want the expense of maintaining such a large arsenal, but Romney claims instead that loopholes in the treaty will permit a Russian build-up of warheads. For Romney’s objections to mean very much, one would have to believe that Russia is intent on a massive arms build-up and is looking for some means to achieve this without formally violating arms control agreements. In fact, the more substantive criticism that advocates of disarmament could make against the treaty is that there are not going to be many reductions at all on either side, and the loopholes in the treaty will permit both governments to maintain their arsenals near their current levels:

Due to the loophole, the United States could avoid counting roughly 450 of its 2,100 presently deployed warheads, while around 860 weapons in Russia’s 2,600-warhead arsenal would not be counted, Kristensen said. As a result, the United States would only need to place 100 deployed warheads in storage and Russia would only need to remove 190 weapons.

It is therefore quite difficult to credit Romney’s claim that “New-START gives Russia a massive nuclear weapon advantage over the United States.” Were that to happen, the same withdrawal provision in Article XIV of the treaty that Russia could exercise could also be exercised by the United States. If we view the Prague treaty as a beginning rather than a dramatic accomplishment on its own, we could then build on it to negotiate reductions in tactical nuclear weapons. Rejecting the treaty because it has not solved every arms reduction problem in one move is just the sort of short-sighted opportunism we have come to expect from Romney and other leading Republicans when it comes to important matters of U.S. foreign policy.

Fred Kaplan at Slate:

Let’s take his rant—critique is too serious a word—line by line.

“New-START impedes missile defense, our protection from nuclear-proliferation rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. Its preamble links strategic defense with strategic arsenal.”

Aside from the bad grammar and the suggestion that Romney’s ghostwriter was taking dictation over a poor phone line (he should have written “links strategic defense with strategic offense,” not “strategic arsenal,” which makes no sense), the first sentence is false, and the second is irrelevant.

There is nothing in the treaty that places any limits on the U.S. missile-defense program. (And several generals, many with a vested interest in the program, have so testified before the Senate foreign relations and armed services committees.)

Yes, the treaty’s preamble notes that there is a relationship between strategic defense and strategic offense. This is Arms Control 101. If both sides drastically reduce their offensive nuclear weapons, while one side greatly builds up its defensive weapons, then that side could (theoretically) launch a disarming first strike and, moments later, shoot down what’s left of the other side’s missiles as they’re launched in retaliation. The essence of nuclear deterrence—and strategic stability—is to maintain the ability to retaliate in kind to a first strike. Very small offensive forces, combined with very large defensive forces, erode deterrence and create a “destabilizing” situation.

However, we are far from this state of affairs. New START leaves each side with 1,550 nuclear warheads; the Pentagon’s missile-defense program envisions a few dozen anti-missile interceptors.

More to the point, as is the case with all treaties, preambles are not legally binding. In response to the Russians’ unilateral statement, President Obama’s negotiators added one of their own, noting that U.S. missile defenses “are not intended to affect the strategic balance with Russia,” but rather to defend against “limited missile launches” by “regional threats” and, to that end, the United States will continue “improving and deploying” its missile-defense systems.

“[New START] explicitly forbids the United States from converting intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos into missile defense sites.”

That’s right. But Romney doesn’t note that the managers of the missile-defense program say, privately and publicly, that they have no plan—and see no advantage—in doing this sort of conversion.

“And Russia has expressly reserved the right to walk away from the treaty if it believes that the United States has significantly increased its missile defense capability.”

This is true, but, as is the case with all treaties, Russia and the United States expressly reserve the right to withdraw for any reason if they believe it endangers their “supreme interests.” President George W. Bush withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Treaty under such a clause. Any president, Russian or American, can pull out of this treaty, too, with three months’ notice. (See Article XIV, Section 3.)

However, the Russians would have to consider the following: If they did withdraw from the treaty, that would probably aggravate tensions to the point where the United States would probably accelerate missile-defense deployments and perhaps resume an offensive arms buildup, too—a resumption that we can afford a lot more than they can.

“The treaty empowers a Bilateral Consultative Commission with broad latitude to amend the treaty with specific reference to missile defense.

This is silly. Previous arms treaties—negotiated by Democrats and Republicans—have created similar commissions. This one, like the others, has no “broad latitude to amend the treaty.” In fact, Article XV of New START states explicitly that the commission can make no changes that affect “substantive rights and obligations.” Its purpose, as noted in several other sections (Articles V and XIII of the treaty, Part VI of its protocol), is to “resolve any ambiguities that may arise” over the 10 years that it remains in effect. These articles contain no “specific reference to missile defense,” by the way.

“The treaty also gives far more to the Russians than to the United States. As drafted, it lets Russia escape the limit on its number of strategic nuclear warheads.”

Again, there might have been some static on the phone line. The treaty does let Russia get by without cutting any of its strategic “delivery vehicles” (missiles and bombers). Each side is limited to 700, but Russia right now has only 600; the United States has 850, so it will have to cut back a little. However, both sides will have to reduce their warheads—the actual nuclear weapons—to 1,550. And, for what it’s worth, Russia, which now has 2,787 warheads, will have to cut back more than the United States, which now has 2,252.

“For example, rail-based ICBMs and launchers are not mentioned.”

First, neither Russia nor the United States has any rail-based ICBMs or launchers. Second, the treaty does deal with mobile ICBMs, in two ways. Article IV, Section 1 states that ICBMs can be deployed “only at ICBM bases.” If, in some perverse wordplay, the Russians claim that a railroad line is a “base,” Article III, Section 5b notes that an ICBM is counted under the treaty’s limits the moment it leaves the production facility (which other sections of the treaty place under constant monitoring); it doesn’t matter where the missile goes afterward, it’s still counted as an ICBM. So while mobile missiles might not be “mentioned” by the treaty, they are, in effect, restricted.

“Similarly, multiple nuclear warheads that are mounted on bombers are effectively not counted. Unlike past treaty restrictions, ICBMs are not prohibited from bombers. This means that Russia is free to mount a nearly unlimited number of ICBMs on bombers—including MIRVs (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles) or multiple warheads—without tripping the treaty’s limits.”

This is where I began to wonder if Romney had fallen prey to someone, perhaps a spy from Sarah Palin’s camp, who wanted to make him look like an idiot.

ICBMs are not “mounted on,” or loaded inside, bombers. The only nuclear weapons carried by bombers are bombs; that’s why they’re called bombers. (Many years ago, some B-52s and B-1s were equipped with air-launched cruise missiles, which flew through the atmosphere, as opposed to intercontinental ballistic missiles, which arc outside the atmosphere. These ALCMs are almost completely phased out, in any case.) Certainly bombers are incapable of carrying MIRVs (which, by the way, are “multiple warheads” loaded onto the tips of missiles).

I think Romney’s ghostwriter might have mixed up one of his talking points. New START counts each bomber as if it is carrying just one nuclear bomb, even though it almost certainly carries several. This counting rule was established for practical reasons. A bomber might carry three bombs one day, a dozen the next, with no need to alter its design. There’s no way to verify how many it’s carrying. So they agreed just to count one bomber as one bomb.

The thing is, this counting rule is to the United States’ advantage, not Russia’s. We have 113 heavy bombers; they have 77. So, if this is what Romney’s ghostwriter meant to take note of, it’s not a problem with the treaty, not from the U.S. point of view.

“Under New START, the United States must drastically reduce our number of launchers but Russia will not—it already has fewer launchers than the treaty limits. Put another way: We give, Russia gets.”

As noted above, this is irrelevant. Both sides do have to reduce the number of warheads, which is to say weapons, and Russia has to cut more than the United States does.

“The treaty ignores tactical nuclear weapons, where Russia outnumbers us by as much as 10 to 1.… Russia will retain more than 10,000 nuclear warheads that are categorized as tactical because they are mounted on missiles that cannot reach the United States. But surely they can reach our allies, nations that depend on us for a nuclear umbrella. And who can know how those tactical nuclear warheads might be reconfigured?”

True, the treaty does not limit tactical nuclear weapons. But this isn’t a gotcha point; both sides explicitly recognize this fact. Obama hopes to tackle the issue in a follow-on treaty, though doing so will be very hard, since Russia regards its tactical nukes as a counterweight to U.S. conventional military superiority.

Still, three points need to be made here. First, a Senate rejection of the treaty won’t limit tactical nuclear weapons, either. If the choice is to ratify the treaty or reject it, the point is irrelevant. Second, the “nuclear umbrella”—the U.S. commitment to threaten enemies with nuclear retaliation if they attack our allies—is unaffected by the presence of Russian tactical nukes; the rough parity in strategic (or long-range) nuclear weapons is far more decisive. Third, I know of no source claiming that Russia has 10,000 tactical nukes. The number is classified (and probably not precisely known by anyone, perhaps including the Russians), but the real number is believed to be about 2,000, compared with the United States’ 500 (and no serious strategist or military officer believes we need anywhere close to that many for any purpose).

Steve Benen:

Some very strong responses to Romney’s piece have already been published by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and the Center for American Progress’ Max Bergmann, but perhaps the most detailed, point-by-point refutation comes by way of Slate‘s Fred Kaplan, who exposed Romney’s piece as vapid nonsense.

In 35 years of following debates over nuclear arms control, I have never seen anything quite as shabby, misleading and—let’s not mince words—thoroughly ignorant as Mitt Romney’s attack on the New START treaty in the July 6 Washington Post.

Senate Republicans are looking for some grounds — any grounds — to defeat this treaty, which was signed in April by President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, and which will soon come to the Senate floor for a vote.

Romney, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, clearly feels the need to pump up some foreign-policy swagger in advance of the 2012 presidential primaries. But one would think he could have found a ghostwriter who had even the vaguest acquaintance with the subject matter.

Kaplan literally goes line by line, in as thorough a take-down as I’ve seen in quite a while. Romney is left looking like a fool.

In the larger context, my biggest concern is that opposition to the treaty will become a standard Republican move to prove one’s right-wing bona fides. That would be a disaster — this treaty needs to pass, and like all treaties, it’ll need 67 votes in the Senate. That means at least eight GOP senators have to vote for it if it comes to the floor this year, or probably more if it’s voted on next year.

Several officials with stature among Republicans — Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), Henry Kissinger, Reagan Secretary of State George Schultz, Reagan Chief of Staff Kenneth Duberstein, Colin Powell, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Reagan Chief of Staff Howard Baker, former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) — have already endorsed New START, and have urged Congress to ratify it. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mullen has said the treaty “has the full support of your uniformed military.”

Whether Senate Republicans listens to this group or Mitt Romney remains to be seen.

UPDATE: Barron YoungSmith at TNR

Daniel Drezner

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Waste Not, Want Not

Tom Diemer at Politics Daily:

President Obama’s top budget adviser wants federal agencies to identify “laggard programs” that they can trim as a step toward reducing spending by 5 percent. The idea is to “make it easier” to comply with the president’s plan to freeze some federal outlays for three years beginning with the 2011 federal budget.

But there are caveats and exceptions. Budget Director Peter Orszag said in a speech Tuesday to the Center for American Progress that the proposed cuts would not begin until 2012 and would apply only to non-defense and non-security-related agencies. In other words, the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security would be immune — so too would be entitlements such as Social Security.

In addition, it appears the 5 percent pinch is not mandatory on the bureaucracy. “We are asking each agency to develop a list of their bottom 5 percent performing discretionary programs, as measured by their impact in furthering the agency’s mission,” Orszag said.

Matthew Yglesias:

A few observations on this:

— The case for cutting or eliminating ineffective programs is always strong.
— That issue is logically independent from the case for reduced overall spending, which is weak in the short term.
— The case for lower-than-projected long-term spending is strong, but this is primarily a matter of health care costs.
— “Defense” and security-related spending can’t be exempt from fiscal scrutiny. Montgomery reports that Defense Secretary Robert Gates “seems to be something of a budget-cutting inspiration for Obama” but the ask here is much bigger in percentage terms that anything Gates has proposed for the Pentagon.
— It’s never a good idea to just look at “spending” without scrutinizing tax expenditures.

Which is all just to say that I believe in what we at CAP call doing what works and not doing what doesn’t work. But I don’t like to see the objective of trimming or eliminating ineffective programs run together with with discussions of fiscal policy as a macroeconomic matter. It’s also worth noting that though the concern in public opinion about wasteful government spending is very real, it’s not clear that the public’s idea of “waste” corresponds very closely to a wonk’s conception of an ineffective program. People tend to like programs that they think benefit them, or people like them, and view other programs as wasteful. What’s more, bad economic times erode faith in public institutions and make people more inclined to see programs as wasteful. That’s really a different issue from the wonk’s worry about programs that don’t work well.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

This spasm of fiscal responsibility can mean only one thing: the Obama administration is about to go on another wild spending binge. And sure enough Politico reports that while Blue Dogs in the House managed to whittle what was a $200 billion “jobs” bill down to $146 billion last month, the Senate is now larding it back up again with a $24 billion Medicaid bailout and a $23 billion teachers union bailout.

This spend-now/cut-later act has become a staple for the Obama administration. In February 2009, after signing the largest single-year increase in domestic federal spending since World War II, President Obama held a “fiscal responsibility” summit designed to “send a signal that we are serious” about putting the nation on sounder financial footing. Then in June 2009, the day after promising faster deficit spending to stimulate the economy, Obama called on Congress to pass “pay-as-you-go” legislation (PAYGO), a rule Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has violated by a mere $1 trillion since she took power in 2006. And then after President Obama signed his trillion-dollar health spending plan, he convened his toothless National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

Kathryn Nix at Heritage:

There’s plenty of waste to go after.  In 2004, Heritage budget expert Brian Riedl listed duplicative programs that could, but have not yet been, eliminated.  These include 343 economic development programs, 130 programs serving the disabled, 130 programs serving at-risk youth…the list goes on.  Riedl explains that “having several agencies perform similar duties is wasteful and confuses program beneficiaries who must navigate each program’s distinct rules and requirements.”  Moreover, duplicity in government programs makes it more difficult for each one to achieve its goal.

Wasteful spending doesn’t stop at program redundancy, either.  In Heritage’s 2010 edition of Federal Spending by the Numbers, Riedl points to plenty of areas where lawmakers could make painless cuts.  For example, Washington spends $25 billion each year to maintain unused or vacant federal properties, and $92 billion on corporate welfare.  Then there’s the less costly but no less absurd $2.6 million that Washington spends to train Chinese prostitutes to drink more responsibly.

In the last five years, Government audits have shown that 22 percent of all federal programs fail to show any positive impact towards their intended objectives yet cost taxpayers $123 billion? Million? annually.

However, this should be seen as just the beginning.  To have a profound impact, more drastic changes will be needed.  This proposal alone would create at most $20 billion in savings, addressing just 2 percent of the federal deficit.  The next step should be deep impact reforms such as repealing the stimulus and the trillion plus health care bill, and enacting major entitlement reform, targeting the unfunded liabilities created by Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

Finally, the White House’s budget cuts wouldn’t require agencies to report on expendable programs until September 13, and effects wouldn’t occur until 2012.  If the White House is serious about cutting spending, they could—and should—start right now.  The Impoundment Control Act of 1974 gives the president the ability to rescind enacted spending by sending a message to Congress with directions, which a Member can then introduce in a bill.  Since 1974, presidents have submitted 1,178 rescissions totaling $76 billion.  Since Republicans expressed their desire for the president to offer a rescission package, an immediate request from the president would be almost sure to come to a vote in the House.

Baby steps towards fiscal responsibility are a positive turn for the administration, but to show the American people they mean business, the White House should also begin cutting spending immediately and pursue reform with larger impact on the federal deficit.

Veronique de Rugy at The Corner:

According to the Post, though, many budget analysts around town are complimentary about the proposal. Well, I guess I am just hard to please, because I think this is a joke. The federal government is spending almost $4 trillion this year. Our deficit is $1.4 trillion. Our debt held by the public is $7.5 trillion. Our long-term entitlement deficits are huge and growing. All of these figures will be larger the next time I blog about them. I don’t have much patience for agencies that need to be given incentives to do what is right. This money isn’t theirs. It’s taxpayers’ money, and the spending needs to stop.

But then again, considering that the Deficit Commission itself needs to be bailed out by the White House, nothing should surprise me anymore. See Daniel Foster on the issue here. And speaking of commissions, my colleague Jerry Brito has a very good study on the BRAC Commission of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It just came out last month and is very informative about the likelihood that today’s Deficit Commission will succeed. A shorter version of his study is here.

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

The federal deficit has stretched to $941 billion in the first eight months of Fiscal Year 2010, and politicians are getting nervous that all that red ink is starting to stink. That puts the White House in the awkward position on standing behind more stimulus — which would raise the deficit — while claiming the mantle of fiscal responsibility. How do you pull that off?

Well, you suggest small-ball reforms — or, as some critics contend, gimmicks. First, President Obama has proposed a three-year freeze on non-security discretionary funding, which amounts to about a fifth of the budget. Second, he’s requested the authority to lightly edit spending bills and send them back to Congress for an expedited vote without amendments. Third, he’s asking agencies to make plans to cut 5% of their budget.

These ideas tend draw much mocking from politicians and the commentariat, and maybe it seems a little weird to grow a trillion-dollar deficit and pare it down with limited freezes (like planting a Redwood and pruning it with a nail file). But I see nothing wrong with these ideas. They’re non-binding, forward looking, and potentially useful. Do we think government agencies should never have to identify programs they consider marginally unecessary? Is it pointless to even threaten to rein in earmarks with a light veto power? We should be running a large deficit in 2010, and we should be thinking about small ways to improve our medium-term budget.

Ezra Klein:

The news in Peter Orszag’s speech this morning is that the White House is “asking each agency to develop a list of their bottom 5 percent performing discretionary programs” in order to make cuts more obvious. On the one hand, reducing inefficient spending is good. On the other hand, reducing aggregate spending is not, at the moment, a good idea. This 5 percent isn’t much in the scheme of things, but it’s a buy-in to the idea that deficits are too high right now rather than an effort to convince people that the time for countercyclical spending hasn’t passed.

So that’s not the news in the speech. But it’s also a small part of it. The bulk of the address is about the need to modernize the federal government’s IT infrastructure, and it’s worth reading. Orszag notes, for instance, that “public sector productivity growth matched the private sector’s until about 1987,” at which point it began falling rapidly behind. If you’ve identified this as roughly coinciding with the rise of personal computing and the Internet eras, well, ding-ding-ding.

“At one time,” Orszag says, “a federal worker went to the office and had access to the most cutting-edge computer power and programs. Now, he often has more of both in a device clipped to his belt.” Oh, snap!

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