Tag Archives: George Will

Choo Choo Canned Heat Collectivism

George Will in Newsweek:

So why is America’s “win the future” administration so fixated on railroads, a technology that was the future two centuries ago? Because progressivism’s aim is the modification of (other people’s) behavior.

Forever seeking Archimedean levers for prying the world in directions they prefer, progressives say they embrace high-speed rail for many reasons—to improve the climate, increase competitiveness, enhance national security, reduce congestion, and rationalize land use. The length of the list of reasons, and the flimsiness of each, points to this conclusion: the real reason for progressives’ passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they—unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted—are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

Time was, the progressive cry was “Workers of the world unite!” or “Power to the people!” Now it is less resonant: “All aboard!”

Jason Linkins at Huffington Post:

One way of looking at high-speed rail systems is that they are a means by which distant communities get connected, economic development and jobs are fostered, and workers with a diverse array of marketable skills can improve their mobility and thus their employment prospects. But another way of looking at high-speed rail is that it’s some nonsense that came to a bunch of hippies as they tripped balls at a Canned Heat concert. That’s my takeaway with George Will’s latest grapple-with-the-real-world session, in which he attempts to figure out “Why liberals love trains.” It’s “Matrix” deep, yo

Sarah Goodyear at Grist:

In case you’re wondering about the provenance of that “collectivism” word — well, collectivism was a favorite demon of Ayn Rand, right-wing philosopher and the Ur-mother of libertarianism in the United States. Here’s a typical usage, from The Objectivist Newsletter of May 1962 (via the Ayn Rand Lexicon):

The political philosophy of collectivism is based on a view of man as a congenital incompetent, a helpless, mindless creature who must be fooled and ruled by a special elite with some unspecified claim to superior wisdom and a lust for power.

“Collectivism” also recalls some of the very worst communist ideas, including the “collectivization” of farms in the Stalinist Soviet Union — among the great atrocities of the 20th century (a crowded category).

Which makes it a pretty strong term to be throwing around when it comes to funding different modes of transportation in 21st-century America. But Will persists with his formulation:

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they — unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted — are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

A couple of things here. First off, automobiles are not the only vehicles capable of encouraging “delusions of adequacy.” Bicycles, one might argue, are a lot more capable of encouraging such delusions — fueled as they are entirely by the body of the “unscripted” individual. Which is perhaps why they seem to enrage people in cars, who have to worry about gasoline and the like, so very much.

Second, let’s talk about modern air travel. What mode of transport is more capable of sapping the human sense of possibility, more confining of the untrammeled human spirit? Perhaps before Will goes after high-speed rail, he should call for the defunding of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Paul Krugman:

As Sarah Goodyear at Grist says, trains are a lot more empowering and individualistic than planes — and planes, not cars, are the main alternative to high-speed rail.

And there’s the bit about rail as an antiquated technology; try saying that after riding the Shanghai Maglev.

But anyway, it’s amazing to see Will — who is not a stupid man — embracing the sinister progressives-hate-your-freedom line, more or less right out of Atlas Shrugged; with the extra irony, of course, that John Galt’s significant other ran, well, a railroad.

Matthew Yglesias:

But I do think this is a good look into the psychology of conservatives. Maybe high-speed rail is a waste of money and maybe it isn’t. I think it’s plausible to say we should just spend the cash on better regular mass transit or whatever. But I’ve long struggled to explain the right-wing’s affection for status quo American policies that amount to massive subsidization of the automobile. A small slice of that is spending on roads. A much larger amount is minimum lot size rules, parking mandates, the whole shebang. It’s a bit odd, and my instinct had been to say that this just goes to show that conservatism has nothing to do with free markets and everything to do with the identity politics of middle aged white suburban conformists. But Will offers another explanation here. Automobile use is not a sign of the free market, but an actual cause of it. Driving inculcates habits of freedom, and thus coercive pro-car regulations are, in a way, freedom-promoting.

More Krugman:

A bit more on this subject — not serious, just a personal observation after a long hard day of reading student applications. (My suggestion that we reject all applicants claiming to be “passionate” about their plans was rejected, but with obvious reluctance.)

Anyway, my experience is that of the three modes of mechanized transport I use, trains are by far the most liberating. Planes are awful: waiting to clear security, then having to sit with your electronics turned off during takeoff and landing, no place to go if you want to get up in any case. Cars — well, even aside from traffic jams (tell me how much freedom you experience waiting for an hour in line at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel), the thing about cars is that you have to drive them, which kind of limits other stuff.

But on a train I can read, listen to music, use my aircard to surf the web, get up and walk to the cafe car for some Amfood; oh, and I’m not restricted by the War on Liquids. When I can, I prefer to take the train even if it takes a couple of hours more, say to get to Boston, because it’s much higher-quality time.

Yes, your choices are limited by the available trains; if I wanted to take a train from beautiful downtown Trenton to DC tomorrow, I’d be restricted to one of 21 trains, leaving roughly once an hour if not more often, whereas if I wanted to drive I could leave any time I wanted. Big deal.

And don’t get me started on how much more freedom of movement I feel in New York, with subways taking you almost everywhere, than in, say, LA, where you constantly have to worry about parking and traffic.

So if trains represent soulless collectivism, count me in.


As Krugman says, trains really are the best way to travel, at least for travel times that are roughly competitive with air travel. That fact doesn’t automatically mean that therefore we should spend huge amounts of public money on it, but, you know, it does mean that people like trains for more reasons than their insidious collectivist promotion.

Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

Manypeoplehave, for good reason, taken their knocks at syndicated columnist William F. George’s ludicrous column about trains, with particular emphasis on the substantial amount of government subsidies that facilitate “individualistic” car travel.    In addition, I’d note that the flying experience is a good example of Republican “freedom.”   For some distances flying is of course necessary and useful, although a good high-speed train network would reduce the number of routes that make flying more practical. For the ordinary person, however, flying is a miserable experience — more waiting in line than a Soviet supermarket during a recession, the potentially humiliating security theater, and incredibly cramped and uncomfortable travel.     But — and here’s the rub — people as affluent as Will can buy their way out of the worst aspects of flying, with separate security lines, private lounges, and first-class seating.   With trains, on the other hand, the experience for the ordinary person is infinitely superior but the affluent can obtain an only marginally better experience.   So you can see why Will hates it.   The fact that trains might represent more meaningful freedom for you isn’t his problem.

More Krugman:

Some of the comments on my various pro-train posts have been along the lines of “Oh yeah, try taking the train to Los Angeles.” But that, of course, misses the point.

I think about the trains/planes comparison something like this: planes go much faster, and will continue to go faster even if we get high-speed rail; but there are some costs associated with a plane trip that can be avoided or minimized on a rail trip, and those costs are the same whether it’s a transcontinental flight or a hop halfway up or down the Northeast Corridor. You have to get to the airport at one end, and get from it at the other, which is a bigger issue, usually, than getting to and from train stations that are already in the city center. You have to wait on security lines. You have to spend more time boarding. So if we look just at travel time, it looks like this:


Suppose that I put those fixed costs at 2 hours; suppose that planes fly at 500 miles an hour; and suppose that we got TGV-type trains that went 200 miles an hour. Then the crossover point would be at 667 miles. It would still be much faster to take planes across the continent — but not between Boston and DC, or between SF and LA. Add in my personal preference for train travel, and I might be willing to train it to Chicago, maybe, but not to Texas.

Now, if we got vacuum maglevs

More Yglesias:

I endorse Krugman’s analysis, but in some ways I think the fact that you can’t get to LA on a train actually is the point. You can’t take the train from New York to Los Angeles. You can’t drive from New York to Los Angeles. You need an airplane. But LaGuardia Airport has limited runway capacity and many daily flights to Boston. Clearly, though, you can take a train from New York to Boston. So money spent on improving the speed and passenger capacity of NYC-Boston train links is, among other things, a way to improve New York’s air links to the West Coast.

Now a separate question is whether there’s any feasible way to actually do this in a country that doesn’t have a French (or Chinese) level of central political authority empowered to build straight tracks through people’s suburban backyards. The answer seems to be “no,” but the potential gains from greater rail capacity in the northeast are large and would (via airplanes) spill over into the rest of the country.

More Goodyear:

In the dark days immediately after 9/11, Will seems to have had a revelation about how a certain mode of transportation could help our nation be stronger and more secure. In an Oct. 1, 2001 column syndicated in the Jewish World Review, Will recommended three steps in response to the attack that the nation had just sustained. First, buy more B-2 bombers. Second, cut corporate taxes. And third? Let Will speak for himself (emphasis mine):

Third, build high-speed rail service.

Two months ago this columnist wrote: “A government study concludes that for trips of 500 miles or less — a majority of flights; 40 percent are of 300 miles or less — automotive travel is as fast or faster than air travel, door to door. Columnist Robert Kuttner sensibly says that fact strengthens the case for high-speed trains. If such trains replaced air shuttles in the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, Kuttner says that would free about 60 takeoff and landing slots per hour.”

Thinning air traffic in the Boston-New York-Washington air corridor has acquired new urgency. Read Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker essay on the deadly dialectic between the technological advances in making air travel safer and the adaptations to these advances by terrorists.

“Airport-security measures,” writes Gladwell, “have simply chased out the amateurs and left the clever and the audacious.” This is why, although the number of terrorist attacks has been falling for many years, fatalities from hijackings and bombings have increased. As an Israeli terrorism expert says, “the history of attacks on commercial aviation reveals that new terrorist methods of attack have virtually never been foreseen by security authorities.”

The lesson to be learned is not defeatism. Security improvements can steadily complicate terrorists’ tasks and increase the likelihood of defeating them on the ground. However, shifting more travelers away from the busiest airports to trains would reduce the number of flights that have to be protected and the number of sensitive judgments that have to be made, on the spot, quickly, about individual travelers. Congress should not adjourn without funding the nine-state Midwest Regional Rail Initiative.

Now that it’s a Democratic administration advocating for rail, Will sees it not as a sensible solution for moving people from one place to another, but instead as a tool to control an unsuspecting populace:

To progressives, the best thing about railroads is that people riding them are not in automobiles, which are subversive of the deference on which progressivism depends. Automobiles go hither and yon, wherever and whenever the driver desires, without timetables. Automobiles encourage people to think they — unsupervised, untutored, and unscripted — are masters of their fates. The automobile encourages people in delusions of adequacy, which make them resistant to government by experts who know what choices people should make.

In his recent screed against rail, Will explicitly dismissed arguments that it would be good for national security. He also didn’t mention air travel. Maybe that would have reminded him of what he himself wrote nearly 10 years ago.

David Weigel:

Good get, but if we’re going to be talking about stupid ideas people had right after 9/11, we’ll be here all day. Will’s rail fetish was a passing fancy, and since then he’s come around to the conservative consensus that rail can never, ever work as a replacement for air travel, so rail projects are essentially boondoggles.

This is an odd discussion to have as the Atlas Shrugged movie comes out. The book and the film absolutely fetishize rail; the film makes it clear that rail will become necessary once gas starts to really run out. And this is something liberal rail adherents point out, too. But I don’t see conservatives coming around to HSR, which needs a massive manpower and financial and land commitment to get going, outside of that sort of crisis thinking.

Jamelle Bouie at Tapped:

This isn’t to play “gotcha,” as much as it is to note a simple fact about our world: We’re all partisans, whether we admit it or not. Reason’s opposition to the individual mandate has almost nothing to do with the substance of what is truly a center-right policy and everything to do with current political circumstances. The mandate was implemented by a Democrat. Reason, as a right-libertarian institution, is part of the conservative opposition to the liberal president. Likewise, Will’s opposition to high-speed rail is purely a function of partisan politics.

This isn’t a bad thing. Yes, partisanship can be taken too far and veer into ideological blindness, but, in general, it is a useful way of organizing our thoughts on policies and politics. Indeed, it’s how most voters process political information. Political commentary would be much more bearable if pundits were willing to accept the partisan origins of their biases and skepticism, instead of playing a game where we pretend to be open-minded observers.  Most are anything but.

Gulliver at The Economist:

Mr Bouie might be overstating the influence of partisanship a bit, and it’s hard for people to know exactly what is driving others’ opinions—or even one’s own. Still, partisanship is certainly a useful frame through which to view both the most ardent opponents and the most passionate defenders of HSR. There is political science research that shows that a president weighing in on one side of a given debate (as Barack Obama has with high-speed rail) dramatically increases political polarization on that issue. Of course, if Mr Bouie’s theory is correct, we should be able to point to some lefty supporters of HSR whose support seems to be driven primarily by partisanship—or even a few who, like Mr Will, have switched positions on the issue. Anyone have a nomination? Let us know in the comments.

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Filed under Infrastructure, Mainstream, New Media

Ayn Rand And The Senate Candidate

George Will in The Washington Post:

Before what he calls “the jaw-dropping” events of the past 19 months — TARP, the stimulus, Government Motors, the mistreatment of Chrysler’s creditors, Obamacare, etc. — the idea of running for office never crossed Ron Johnson’s mind. He was, however, dry tinder — he calls Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” his “foundational book” — and now is ablaze, in an understated, Upper Midwestern way. This 55-year-old manufacturer of plastic products from Oshkosh, Wis., is what the Tea Party looks like.

He is trim, gray-haired and suddenly gray-suited. For years he has worn jeans and running shoes to his office, but now, under spousal duress, he is trying to look senatorial — “My wife upgraded me to brown shoes.” He has been endorsed by the state party and will almost certainly win the September primary for the Republican nomination to run against Russ Feingold, who is seeking a fourth term in a year in which incumbency is considered a character flaw.

Former Republican governor Tommy Thompson led Feingold in polls and froze the race on the Republican side before deciding not to run. But in this season of simmering resentment of the political class, a neophyte such as Johnson might be a stronger candidate than a recycled executive. Johnson can fund himself. Asked how much of his wealth he will spend, if necessary, his answer is as simple as it is swift: “All of it.”


Feingold, 57, is an elusive target. In recent polls he has been under 50 percent when matched with potential Republican challengers. A political lifer, three years out of law school Feingold began a 10-year stint as a state senator, then became a U.S. senator. His cultivated quirkiness complicates attempts to cast him as a traditional liberal. In 1999, he was the only Democrat to vote against the motion to dismiss the impeachment charges against President Bill Clinton, and in 2008 he voted against the now hugely unpopular bailout legislation — TARP (the Troubled Assets Relief Program).

This year’s turbulence has already visited Wisconsin. Facing a strong Republican challenge, Rep. David Obey, 71, who went to Congress in 1969 and chairs the House Appropriations Committee, has decided to retire, even though his district has not voted Republican in a presidential election since 1984.

Johnson, a pro-life Lutheran, will highlight Feingold’s opposition to banning late-term abortions: “I would like to ask Russ, ‘Have you ever witnessed a partial-birth abortion?’ ” But this year the “social issues,” as normally understood, are less important than the social issue as Johnson understands it — the transformation of American society in a way foreshadowed in fiction.

What Samuel Johnson said of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” — “None ever wished it longer than it is” — some readers have said of “Atlas Shrugged.” Not Johnson, who thinks it is “too short” at 1,088 pages.

Eric Kleefeld at Talking Points Memo:

The new Rasmussen poll of Wisconsin says that Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold is in a close race with businessman Ron Johnson, who is enjoying a boost of good publicity after his endorsement by the state GOP convention this past weekend.

The numbers: Feingold 46%, Johnson 44%. Feingold also leads the two other businessmen in the GOP race, leading Dave Westlake by 47%-38% and Terrence Wall — who is reportedly set to exit the race soon — by 47%-41%. The survey of likely voters has a ±4.5% margin of error.

The TPM Poll Average has Feingold leading Westlake by 47.0%-38.6%, and leading Wall by 47.3%-42.3%. This is the first publicly released poll to feature Johnson. The GOP previously lost out on its top recruiting opportunity when former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who led Feingold by 45.3%-41.9%, announced in April that he would not run.

Ed Morrissey:

It’s a tight race even in the internals.  Surprisingly, Johnson wins a two-point edge among 18-29YO voters, but apart from an eleven-point lead among 40-49YO voters, the age demographics are all narrowly split.  The income demographics show more definition between the candidates, but Johnson wins more of them than does Feingold.  Feingold takes a six-point lead among independents, 44-38,  but 10% are still undecided.

It won’t help that Wisconsin voters favor repealing the ObamaCare bill 53/38, and favor passage of an Arizona-like immigration-enforcement law in their state, 57/29.  Unlike other Democratic incumbents in blue states, Barack Obama is just underwater in approval, 49/50.  The current Democratic Governor is farther underwater at 41/57.

Feingold does have a decent favorability rating at +9, 53/44, but with only 3% having no opinion.  He’s well defined, thanks to his long incumbency.  Johnson, on the other hand, has 32% of the likely voters in Wisconsin to convince one way or the other.  Among the rest, he has a +17 at 42/25.  If Johnson can define himself in this race before Feingold can do the job for him, he has plenty of room to improve his standing and his numbers.  For Feingold, it looks as though he’s near his ceiling already.

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard:

Feingold hasn’t faced a competitive race since 1998, but it certainly seems like Johnson will give Feingold a run for his money this year.

Don Suber:

Voters may be breaking up the McCain-Feingold gang.

The main sponsors of the Screw-the-First campaign law known as McCain-Feingold — Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold — might lose their re-election bids this year.

McCain is running hard for the Republican nomination.

Now Feingold is in trouble.

From Rasmussen: “Businessman Ron Johnson, endorsed at last weekend’s state Republican Convention, is now running virtually even against incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold in Wisconsin’s race for the U.S. Senate.”

The score is Feingold 46%, Johnson 44%.

The Supreme Court gutted much of this ugly, anti-free speech law that limited any criticism of an incumbent senator or congressman just before any election.

The Founding Fathers did not spin in their graves; they puked.

I hope they both lose.

David Weigel:

Will drops an important fact midway through his column — Sen. Russ Feingold (R-Wisc.), whom Johnson is running against, did not vote for TARP. That will force Johnson to confront Feingold — and Feingold to confront Johnson — on government and spending issues that are less unpopular. But Republicans are currently swooning over a Rasmussen poll showing Johnson, a total unknown, in a statistical tie with Feingold.

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Filed under Political Figures, Politics

Come On, 1070, Light My Fire

Alia Beard Rau at The Arizona Republic:

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer today signed into law an immigration bill that gives the state toughest law in the nation, making it a state crime to be in the country illegally and requiring local police to enforce federal immigration laws.

Brewer said she signed the bill in response to “the crisis the federal government has refused to fix.”

Hispanic leaders addressing the hundreds of protesters at the Capitol immediately vowed to wage a legal fight, and Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said he wants the city to sue.

The new immigration law will require anyone whom police suspect of being in the country illegally to produce “an alien registration document,” such as a green card, or other proof of citizenship such as a passport or Arizona driver’s license.

It also makes it illegal to impede the flow of traffic by picking up day laborers for work. A day laborer who gets picked up for work, thus impeding traffic, would also be committing a criminal act.

Allah Pundit:

Here’s the text of the bill, by the way; the important stuff is on page 1. If statutory language isn’t your thing, try the legislative fact sheet instead. The media is telling me that this bill will do all sorts of draconian things, like require citizens to carry proof of citizenship at all times. After skimming the bill, I can’t find it. I think this is the money section:


The alarmist theory, I guess, is that merely being Latino will be treated as “reasonable suspicion” and that if you don’t have a driver’s license or birth certificate with you when the cop asks for it, then it’s to jail you’ll be going. I don’t read it that way; Brewer said at today’s ceremony that she won’t tolerate racial profiling and issued an executive order authorizing the state police board to develop standards for “reasonable suspicion.” Article 8, Section F of the bill (on page 2) seems to say that cops can’t be prevented from checking your status, but that doesn’t mean “carry papers or go to jail.” It means they can run your name through a computer to confirm whether you’re here legally and no left-leaning municipal authority can stop them. There may be something in the bill requiring immigrants to keep proof of legal status with them, but I honestly can’t find it. Can anyone help?

Ann Althouse:

Why is it so inflammatory for the people of a state to deal with a problem of disorder within their own borders?

Even before she signed the bill at a 4:30 p.m. news conference here, President Obama strongly criticized it….

Saying the failure of officials in Washington to act on immigration would open the door to “irresponsibility by others,” he said the Arizona bill threatened “to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.”

What is irresponsible and unfair about what Arizona did?

David Weigel:

Arizona’s SB 1070, the legislation that would allow law enforcement to demand proof of citizenship from anyone they find suspicious, is getting some clutch support from the local tea party movement.

From the Arizona Tea Party’s page on how to rally for the bill:

We are asking for you to spread the word to see if anyone is available to come down there… to show your support of the bill.They are meeting by the Arizona Flag on the House Lawn. Bring American Flags and signs if possible… Signs: We support “LEGAL” Immigration, In Mexico, You Must Be Legal… Why not here? – etc…The call for protesters is a response to the teeming anti-SB 1070 protests outside of the Capitol.

So, here is one effort to give government more power that tea partiers are not pounding the pavement to oppose.

Alex Altman at Swampland at Time:

It will be interesting to see how Congressional Democrats proceed. It’s too soon to book financial re-regulation in the win column, but with a cloture vote slated for late Monday afternoon, there’s been a lot of buzz over whether immigration reform will leapfrog energy legislation as the next item on the Democratic agenda. The sweeping nature of the Arizona legislation — the bill, which is sitting on Republican Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk, which Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed Friday afternoon*, will require police to stop suspected illegal immigrants and arrest those who lack proper documentation — may have played a role in spurring Democrats to address an issue central to one of its core constituencies. And while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicates she will take up immigration reform if the Senate acts first, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the party’s point man on both issues, is urging Majority Leader Harry Reid to stick to the original script.

Audrey Singer at The New Republic:

Among its most stringent and divisive tactics is the provision that would grant police the authority to stop anyone suspected of being present in the country illegally. The act is intended to “discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the United States.” Critics, including President Obama, charge that it will encourage racial profiling while discouraging immigrants from asking for help from law enforcement when they need it.

Brewer’s signature demonstrates that Arizona–already well-known on this front due to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s law enforcement strategies–continues to lead the nation on tough immigration enforcement. Arizona’s immigrant population skyrocketed in the 1990s and 2000s until the recession struck. Now Phoenix, once one of the fastest growing destinations for immigrant newcomers, has seen a significant decline in its foreign-born population.

A veto might have been seen as a call for a widespread, strategic federal response, putting pressure on Congress to address immigration reform sensibly, responsibly, and very swiftly. Despite some recent jockeying on Capitol Hill, it remains to be seen whether politics will allow a bipartisan solution on this highly politicized and emotional issue in a rational way.

Governor Brewer has cracked the immigration reform debate wide open again. This time, it seems even more urgent for Congress to act to provide coherent and reasonable leadership on an issue that should be in the hands of federal lawmakers.

UPDATE: Byron York in The Washington Examiner

Rich Lowry at RealClearPolitics

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard

Damon Root at Reason

Blue Texan at Firedoglake

Scott Lemieux at Lawyers Guns and Money

UPDATE #2: George Will in WaPo

Julian Sanchez on Will

James Joyner on Will

Andrew Sullivan with a round-up

UPDATE #3: Andrew Sullivan gives us Megan McArdle and Matt Welch at Reason


Filed under Immigration

Old McDonald Had A Supreme Court Case, E-I-E-I-O

second amendmentSCOTUSBlog:

Taking on a major new constitutional dispute over gun rights, the Supreme Court agreed on Wednesday to decide whether to apply the Second Amendment to state, county, and city government laws.  In another major case among ten new grants, the Court said it will rule on the constitutionality of one of the government’s most-used legal weapons in the “war on terrorism” — a law that outlaws “material support” to terrorist groups.

The Court had three cases from which to choose on the Second Amendment issue — two cases involving a Chicago gun ban, and one case on a New York ban on a martial-arts weapon.  It chose one of the Chicago cases — McDonald v. Chicago (08-1521) — a case brought to it by Alan Gura, the Alexandria, VA., lawyer who won the 2008 decision for the first time recognizing a constitutional right to have a gun for personal use, at least in self-defense in the home (District of Columbia v. Heller).  A second appeal on the Chicago dispute had been filed by the National Rifle Association (NRA v. Chicago, 08-1497).  Presumably, the Court will hold onto that case until it decides McDonald; the same is likely for the New York case, Maloney v. Rice (08-1592) — a case in which Justice Sonia Sotomayor had participated when she was a judge on the Second Circuit Court.

Megan McArdle:

It looks like we’ll soon find out; the Supreme Court has accepted cert on McDonald v. Chicago, a gun rights case brought by Alan Gura, the lawyer who won the Heller case.  The court has been dodging the twin questions of whether the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms, and whether it can be incorporated against the states, for decades.  It looks like the question will finally be settled–at least as much as Supreme Court decisions ever settle things–in the next year.

Brian Doherty in Reason

Roger Pilon in Cato:

Thus, the so-called incorporation doctrine will be at issue in this case – the question of whether the Fourteenth Amendment “incorporates” the guarantees of the Bill of Rights against the states. The Bill of Rights applied originally only against the federal government. But the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, left open the question of which rights states were bound to recognize. The modern Court has incorporated most of the rights found in the Bill of Rights, but the Second Amendment’s guarantees have yet to be incorporated.

Moreover, a question that will arise in this case is whether the Court, if it does decide that the states are bound by the Second Amendment, will reach that conclusion under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause or under its Privileges or Immunities Clause, which has been moribund since the infamous Slaughterhouse Cases of 1873. In its brief urging the Court to hear the McDonald petition, the Cato Institute urged the Court to revive the Privileges or Immunities Clause.

C.J. Ciaramella at TWS

UPDATE: Orin Kerr

Mark Thompson at The League

John Lott at Big Government

Jacob Sullum at Reason

UPDATE #2: George Will in WaPo

Stuart Taylor at National Journal

Damon Root in Reason

UPDATE #3: Instapundit

Ilya Shapiro at Cato

Jack Balkin

Ed Morrissey

Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money


Filed under Guns, Supreme Court, The Constitution

Three Men And Afghanistan


Man #1: General Stanley McChrystal. Mark Tran in The Guardian:

The west must change its strategy in order to prevail in Afghanistan, the top US commander in the country said today as he handed over to US and Nato commanders a sweeping review of operations that may lead to a demand for more troops.

“The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort,” General Stanley McChrystal said. His findings will be submitted to President Barack Obama, who faces a public increasingly restive over a war that has lasted eight years.

McChrystal does not ask for more US troops to be sent to Afghanistan, but his grave reflections on the failure of strategy may well herald a request in a separate briefing to Obama expected later this autumn.

The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan was graphically illustrated during the recent elections, over which numerous complaints have been filed. Results are still being compiled, but a tally released today based on 48% of polling stations gave the incumbent president Hamid Karzai 45.8% of the vote to 33.2% for his nearest challenger Abdullah Abdullah. Karzai needs 50% to avoid a second round run-off.

McChrystal has been working on the review since Obama put him in charge of the war in June after firing his predecessor, David McKiernan. The document has been sent to the US military’s central command (CentCom), responsible for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to Nato headquarters in Brussels.

Ed Morrissey:

This will present Obama with some tough political choices.  The left wing of his party wants the US out of Afghanistan, regardless of the status of al-Qaeda.  The military wants to keep pursuing AQ, and most of the country would agree with that position.  Republicans will support Obama’s effort overseas as long as he remains flexible on strategy and tactics.

On the review, Spencer Ackerman:

We still don’t know what it says. Not even Defense Secretary Bob Gates does, apparently, though it went to the Pentagon and NATO. The initial reports are that it says a lot of what it’s been expected to say: the war is hard but not hopeless; more Afghan forces are necessary; intelligence collection and dissemination needs to improve; so does military-civilian coordination; so does U.S.-NATO coordination. There are no indications as yet that it will deal with broader strategic questions of what the war aims precisely are or how the U.S. will know when they’ve achieved them. (And McChrystal is deferring a decision to request more troops until a later date.)

This, from The New York Times, struck my eye:

“Just how many more Afghan police and soldiers General McChrystal wants is unclear. In Iraq, where conditions have stabilized markedly over the past two years, the American-trained Iraqi security forces number about 600,000.”

I had thought the plan was to get those troop and police numbers up to 400,000.

Marc Ambinder:

The president and his national security team are skittish, but they aren’t looking for a way to deny McChrystal what he thinks he needs. It will be quite interesting to see how McChrystal phrases his request. It won’t accompany the report — though the report will probably imply as much.

New troops would be funded by a new congressional appropriation. But the administration has promised to Congress that it would no longer fund the war by submitting supplemental requests, and the Defense Department has already programmed funds for the 2010 fiscal year. They cannot simply move a few billion dollars from here to there. There may not be enough troops, either. Soldiers on long deployments in Iraq will, if this happens, be sent to Afghanistan for another deployment.

So, assuming that the White House doesn’t renege on their supplemental promise, the earliest that McChrystal could get his additional troops would be at least a year from now.

And that might be exactly what the White House and the Department of Defense are counting on. After all, the new Afghanistan strategy — counterterrorism using the means of counterinsurgency — is still fairly new. As painful as it is, the administration seems to want to give it a chance to succeed.


McChrystal is engaging in some sleight of hand here. The top priority for the Obama Administration, at least in the President’s public statements, has never been “protecting the Afghan people against the Taliban.” We’ve heard about dismantling Taliban safe havens, but not that our military should be used as an internal security force. We should at least have that debate if it’s the new goal.

I’m more concerned that the Administration feels it has to race to show progress, basing their continued presence in Afghanistan not on any security objective, but simply meaning to justify the presence through demonstrable benchmarks. If the benchmarks, or “metrics” in the new parlance, are not tethered to a fundamental mission or strategy, how can we possibly define success? In recent years, the success or failure in achieving benchmarks or metrics have had no impact on the larger decisions of escalation or drawdown. A benchmark strategy just looks like a justification strategy rather than any kind of real assessment.


Man #2: Anthony Cordesman, in WaPo:

The United States cannot win the war in Afghanistan in the next three months — any form of even limited victory will take years of further effort. It can, however, easily lose the war. I did not see any simple paths to victory while serving on the assessment group that advised the new U.S. commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, on strategy, but I did see all too clearly why the war is being lost.

The most critical reason has been resources. Between 2002 and 2008 the United States never provided the forces, money or leadership necessary to win, effectively wasting more than half a decade. Our country left a power vacuum in most of Afghanistan that the Taliban and other jihadist insurgents could exploit and occupy, and Washington did not respond when the U.S. Embassy team in Kabul requested more resources.


McChrystal has not announced a need for more U.S. troops, but almost every expert on the scene has talked about figures equivalent to three to eight more brigade combat teams — with nominal manning levels that could range from 2,300 to 5,000 personnel each — although much of that manpower will go to developing Afghan forces that must nearly double in size, become full partners rather than tools, and slowly take over from U.S. and NATO forces. Similarly, a significant number of such U.S. reinforcements will have to assist in providing a mix of capabilities in security, governance, rule of law and aid. U.S. forces need to “hold” and keep the Afghan population secure, and “build” enough secure local governance and economic activity to give Afghans reason to trust their government and allied forces. They must build the provincial, district and local government capabilities that the Kabul government cannot and will not build for them. No outcome of the recent presidential election can make up for the critical flaws in a grossly overcentralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.

Unfortunately, strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies seem determined to ignore these realities. They are pressuring the president to direct Eikenberry and McChrystal to come to Washington to present a broad set of strategic concepts rather than specific requests for troops, more civilians, money and an integrated civil-military plan for action. They are pushing to prevent a fully integrated civil-military effort, and to avoid giving Eikenberry and McChrystal all the authority they need to try to force more unity of effort from allied forces and the U.N.-led aid effort.

If these elements succeed, President Obama will be as much a failed wartime president as George W. Bush. He may succeed in lowering the political, military and financial profile of the war for up to a year, but in the process he will squander our last hope of winning. This would only trade one set of political problems for a far worse set in the future and leave us with an enduring regional mess and sanctuary for extremism. We have a reasonable chance of victory if we properly outfit and empower our new team in Afghanistan; we face certain defeat if we do not.

Ezra Klein:

Monday’s op-ed by Anthony Cordesman is titled “How to Lose in Afghanistan.” In it, he uses the word “victory” three times. He uses the word “win” four time. He also mentions losing, and defeat. But nowhere does he define what winning is, or what losing looks like. He’s pretty clear that we want to win and we don’t want to lose. And he’s pretty clear that victory means giving Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General Stanley McChrystal all the resources they request and all the authority they want and protecting them from “constant micromanagement from Washington or traveling envoys.”

Cordesman and many others have certainly thought about this issue a lot and probably have working definitions of success. But there’s been a peculiar unwillingness to define any of this very clearly. Richard Holbrooke, when asked, said, “we’ll know it when we see it.” The strategy is, presumably, a little more distinct when detailed in White House meetings. But it’s hard to avoid the concern that these folks actually have a perfectly clear vision of success but recognize that it’s sufficiently ambitious that they’re unwilling to define it publicly. People like the idea of victory. But do they like the idea of trying to be the first country to ever successfully nation-build in Afghanistan?

Max Boot in Commentary:

So far President Obama has heeded warnings that he needed to do more to salvage a failing war effort in Afghanistan. Let us hope that he pays attention again and takes actions that are sure to be unpopular in the short term, especially with the left-wing of his own party (which is now calling for a “flexible timetable to bring our brave troops out of Afghanistan”).

Only by adding more resources can Obama offer the prospect of long-term victory in a war effort that he himself has deemed a “war of necessity.”

Dave Schuler:

As I see it there are fundamental problems with a counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan. First, as long as the insurgents are able to flee to bases in Pakistan they will be difficult if not impossible to reduce and the Pakistani government despite brave talk has shown little inclination to eliminate these bases.

Second, there is no central government in Afghanistan to support. There is a Kabul government.

Third, there are no prospects whatever for Afghanistan itself shouldering the bulk of the burden of the counter-insurgency effort for the foreseeable future and our NATO allies have shown little enthusiasm for increasing their own commitments to the effort.

But most importantly the case has yet to be made to the American people that victory in Afghanistan is either achievable or even worth pursuing at least not in the time or at the cost that would be required. Commenters as diverse as Matthew Yglesias and Dennis the Peasant have pointed out that neither Dr. Cordeman nor Gen. McChrystal nor the Obama Administration have defined victory in Afghanistan. It’s darned hard to convince people that something is worth sacrificing for if neither you nor they know what it is. I suspect the American people are increasingly skeptical that what’s going on in Afghanistan is the war they signed on for.


Man #3: George Will:

Afghanistan’s $23 billion GDP is the size of Boise’s. Counterinsurgency doctrine teaches, not very helpfully, that development depends on security, and that security depends on development.

Even though violence exploded across Iraq after, and partly because of, three elections, Afghanistan’s recent elections were called “crucial.” To what? They came, they went, they altered no fundamentals, all of which militate against American “success,” whatever that might mean.

Creation of an effective central government? Afghanistan has never had one. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry hopes for a “renewal of trust” of the Afghan people in the government, but The Economist describes President Hamid Karzai’s government – his vice presidential running mate is a drug trafficker – as so “inept, corrupt and predatory” that people sometimes yearn for restoration of the warlords, “who were less venal and less brutal than Mr. Karzai’s lot.”

Mullen speaks of combating Afghanistan’s “culture of poverty.” But that took decades in just a few square miles of the South Bronx. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, thinks jobs programs and local government services might entice many “accidental guerrillas” to leave the Taliban. But before launching New Deal 2.0 in Afghanistan, the Obama administration should ask itself: If U.S. forces are there to prevent re-establishment of al-Qaeda bases – evidently there are none now – must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen and other sovereignty vacuums?

U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000 to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.

So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, air strikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.

Mike Allen at Politico:

Will’s prescription – in which he urges Obama to remember Bismarck’s decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870 – seems certain to split Republicans. He is a favorite of fiscal conservatives. The more hawkish right can be expected to attack his conclusion as foolhardy, short-sighted and naïve, potentially making the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorist attack.The columnist’s startling recommendation surfaced on the same day that Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, sent an assessment up his chain of command recommending what he called “a revised implementation strategy.” In a statement, McChrystal also called for “commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort.”

In the column, Will warns that any nation-building strategy could be impossible to execute given the Taliban’s ability to seemingly disappear into the rugged mountain terrain and the lack of economic development in the war-plagued nation.

Spencer Ackerman:

I’m not really sure how many minds this will actually change. Will’s never been much of a hawk, though he does represent something of a curmudgeonly conservative establishmentarianism. Dave can correct me if I’m off-base here.


Over email, Drudgico tells me that in his next column George Will will say it’s time to start pulling troops out of Afghanistan. I don’t especially care what George Will thinks about anything, but given the way things work hopefully it’ll provide some space to make that just a little bit more possible.

Ann Althouse

K-Lo at The Corner


UPDATE: On Will, Via Allah Pundit

Frederick Kagan at The Corner

Rich Lowry at The Corner


UPDATE #2: More on Will:

Peter Wehner in Commentary

Hugh Hewitt at Townhall

William Kristol at WaPo

Isaac Chotiner at TNR

Christian Brose at FP

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When I Was Twenty-Nine, It Was A Very Good Year


George Will in WaPo the past week wrote this sentence:

When New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called upon “young Americans” to “get a million people on the Washington Mall calling for a price on carbon,” another columnist, Mark Steyn, responded: “If you’re 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life. If you’re graduating high school, there has been no global warming since you entered first grade.”

And liberal bloggers went to town. Ezra Klein:

George Will appears to have gotten this devastating rejoinder from Mark Steyn. Steyn is not, as you might imagine, a climate scientist. He’s a polemicist best known for writing a celebrity obituary column in The Atlantic. I actually like Steyn’s celebrity obituaries — they’re quick and sharp-witted and gracefully written — but I’m not sure I’d use him for a source on global warming. I’d be more likely to listen to this guy.

But to be a bit positive about this, I wanted to point out Michael Gerson’s column from July 1. Would that the debate between liberals and conservatives on climate change looked more like this

Kevin Drum:

In case you’ve missed it, this is the new favorite talking point from the chucklehead denialist set.  The earth is actually cooling!  But as about a thousand serious climate researchers have pointed out, it’s not true.  Global temps have been trending up for over a century, but in any particular year they can spike up and down quite a bit.  In 1998 they spiked up far above the trend line and last year they spiked below the trend line.  So 2008 was cooler than 1998.

Of course, you can prove anything you want if you cherry pick your starting and ending points carefully enough.  For example: The year 2000 was below the trend line and 2005 was above it.  Temps were up 0.4°C in only five years!  The seas will be boiling by 2050!

This is idiotic, and only deliberate charlatans who think they have an especially gullible audience bother with it.  It’s the trend line that matters, and the trend line has been going up for decades right along with rising CO2 concentrations.  Listen to the climatologists, not the charlatans.

Matthew Yglesias:

I should say that at first I didn’t even understand what Steyn/Will were trying to say here. Clearly they’re engaged in some form of the “1998 was very hot and therefore there’s no global warming” fallacy, but 29 years ago it was 1980 — a distinctly cooler year than the ones we’ve had recently. The key here seems to be that if you’re 29 there’s been no warming in your “adult life.” In other words, 2000 was warmer on average than 2008 and therefore there’s no long-run cooling trend.

Ryan Avent:

So, the big, stupid talking point among climate sceptics at the moment, including some of the more sophisticated ones — I’ve heard Jim Manzi make this point before — is that no warming has occurred since 1998, because that was the hottest year on record. This is moronic. It also strikes me as very foolish from a rhetorical perspective. You see, global warming means that we will eventually have a year that’s hotter than 1998. A developing El Nino suggests that we may have a year that’s hotter than 1998 tout de suite.

I understand that the kind of person who cites the 1998 factoid as evidence against warming is not the kind of person who will be unable to come up with some alternative, perhaps more moronic, denialist evidence. Still, won’t having this argument cemented in the public record many, many times wind up being kind of a black eye once it’s no longer true?

I mean, can we get George Will on record as saying what he believes the implications of the world having a year hotter than 1998 would be?

Jim Manzi at The American Scene, with this graph:


There has not been a lot of measured warming for the last ten years.

It’s hard to dispute this. What Ezra, Kevin and Ryan are arguing is idiotic, moronic or whatever is the notion that the past ten years of data disproves the theory of AGW. Their basic argument is “sure, but look at the long-term trend”. I agree with them about the conclusion that the last ten years of raw data don’t falsify the theory (and have argued this at many times in many places), but I’m not sure any of them have thought through this question fully.

If I observe that it is cooler in New York today than yesterday, no reasonable person would take that as proof that AGW theory is wrong. On the other hand, if we had rapid growth of human population and rapid fossil-fuel-dependent economic development for the next 1,000 years with no increase in surface temperatures, no reasonable person would claim that AGW in anything like its current form had not been disproven. The question is at what point between 1 day and 1,000 years do I have enough evidence that I can reasonably reject the theory? It seems to me that you need a rational standard to answer this question before you simply call ten years “moronic” a priori.

James Fallows:

Will presented the lack of youthful clamor as a sign of wholesome common sense. If you would like another way to think about the evidence, this one provided not by a columnist but by a physicist at UC Berkeley who has won a MacArthur grant, I recommend Richard A. Muller‘s book Physics for Future Presidents. I happened to read most of it on a long plane flight yesterday, so I was all set for Will’s column today. So you can be ready before his next one appears, I recommend ordering the book now.

Discover Magazine

UPDATE: Jim Manzi again

Kevin Drum again

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Filed under Environment, Mainstream, New Media

The Year Was Hip, Happening And Full Of Giant Steps


Fred Kaplan of Slate has a new book out on 1959.

Some posts from Kaplan at Slate on the book, here and here. Kaplan:

I entered into my project with apprehensions of just this sort of eye-rolling. There are a lot of books out there that insist a specific year, or type of fish or grain or mathematical equation, altered the course of civilization. But I went ahead with it anyway, not because I figured I was cashing in on a trend (Cohen’s article is headlined “Titlenomics, or Creating Best Sellers”)—if I do, I’ll be more stunned than anybody—but because, well, I was convinced that 1959 was the real deal.

It began with simple curiosity. Several years ago, it occurred to me that many of my favorite groundbreaking record albums, books, and movies—Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz To Come, The Sick Humor of Lenny Bruce, Norman Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself, Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus, François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows—were all released in 1959.

Was this just coincidence, or was it part of a pattern? Was there something more broadly significant about that time? The more I looked into it, the more it struck me that 1959 really was a pivotal year—not only in culture but also in politics, society, science, sex: everything.

Consider: It was the year when the microchip was introduced, the Food and Drug Administration held hearings on the birth-control pill, IBM marketed the first business computer, a passenger jetliner took the first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight, and America joined the Russians in the “space race.” It saw the rise of free jazz, “sick comics,” the New Journalism, and indie films; the birth of Motown, Happenings, and the Generation Gap; the Lady Chatterley trial that overthrew the nation’s obscenity laws; the U.S. Civil Rights Commission’s first report, which sparked the overhaul of segregation laws—all this bursting against fears of a “missile gap,” the fallout-shelter craze, and the first U.S. casualties in the war in Vietnam.

Kaplan on the Diane Rehm show

George Will:

Kaplan lavishes excessive attention on Norman Mailer, who today seems marginal. It is a significant datum — signifying today’s diminished importance of words — that the poet Allen Ginsberg’s 1959 recitation at Columbia University caused the sort of commotion that only a rock group could cause today. But Kaplan’s judgment that Ginsberg “saw the connection between freedom from structures in poetry and freedom from structures in all of life” merely validates the axiom that everything changes except the avant garde.

More serious change was coming, born of a mundane material, silicon. On March 24, 1959, at an engineers’ trade show, Texas Instruments introduced perhaps the 20th century’s most transformative device, the solid integrated circuit, aka the microchip. It would help satisfy what Kaplan calls Americans’ “yearning for instantaneity,” a cousin of the spontaneity (“first thought, best thought” proclaimed Ginsberg) so celebrated in the next decade.

Kaplan is especially convincing concerning jazz as a leading indicator of more serious, because more disciplined, cultural enrichment. On March 2, 1959, Miles Davis began recording “Kind of Blue,” perhaps the greatest jazz album. On May 4, John Coltrane recorded “Giant Steps,” on May 22, Ornette Coleman recorded “The Shape of Jazz to Come” and on June 25, David Brubeck began recording “Time Out.” The emancipation of jazz from what Kaplan calls “the structures of chords and pre-set rhythms” proved that meticulously practiced improvisation is not an oxymoron.

George Packer in the New Yorker:

Kaplan, who’s a friend of mine, is a poly-enthusiast. He writes books and columns about defense and foreign policy; he reviews high-end stereo equipment; he writes about jazz, a subject on which he’s deeply knowledgeable; he knows all about the latest DVD releases and the technology behind them; he frequents music clubs, art-film screenings, gallery openings, art auctions; he reads contemporary fiction. He and his wife, Brooke Gladstone, are the rare New Yorkers who actually take full advantage of the city’s cultural cornucopia. He’s a sort of wonky hipster, a type that subsumes and coalesces almost all of the characters—physicists, poets, jazz musicians, astronomers—who set America on fire at the end of the Eisenhower decade, and who people “1959,” Kaplan’s new book, which puts all of his passions between hard covers.

Steve Goddard:

Unquestionably, America was on the cusp of change as President Eisenhower’s second term wound down. Who can disagree that Berry Gordy’s founding of Motown was transformative in forever changing American musical culture? And successful court challenges to obscenity charges against such books as Lady Chatterley’s Lover broadened our reading choices overnight.

If Kaplan had dumped the “Everything” subtitle or substituted something a little less sweeping, his book might have more accurately assessed the significance of the year I graduated from high school.

Susan G at Daily Kos:

In Kaplan’s careful interpretation of the year, 1959–even aside from its headline scientific and cultural milestones–was a simmering cauldron of innovation and change, with superficial conformity and false shallows hiding the depths beneath. The non-headline-grabbing shifts were beneath the surface, but even more than the current events of the day, they shaped the future we live in now. John Kennedy was readying for a presidential run, honing his message and building up his network in the year prior to his run. Martin Luther King Jr. made a trip to India and studied in depth the resistance methods of Mahatma Gandhi. In different states, court rulings were made regarding voting rights and desegregation that laid the groundwork for the civil rights struggles that would explode into the mainstream in a few short years.

Zachary Lazer in the LA Times:

Was I persuaded that 1959 was the year that changed everything? I’ll give Kaplan the microchip, and the Beats, represented here by the publication of “Naked Lunch” — nothing in literature after the Beats has managed to be as radical and popular at the same time. But I’d bet on Warhol eclipsing any 1950s artist and a certain band from Liverpool eclipsing him and everybody else (my apologies to the King of Pop). Which is to say only that the year 1959 was absolutely great, but maybe not the absolutely greatest.

UPDATE: Robert Wright:

It’s true, though, that these “pivotal year” arguments are hard to operationalize. Is the proposition that, had the year not happened, our world would be radically different? Well, I’m guessing that, had the year not happened, the resulting gap in the space-time continuum might have led to our world not being here at all. Maybe the way to frame the question is as one of narrative economy: Does telling the story of a given year efficiently illuminate the contemporary world? Having not read the book, but knowing Fred’s work, I’m betting the answer to that question is yes. For me, at any rate, 1959 was crucial. I got a nice red tricycle… and the rest is history.

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Filed under Books, History

The Best And Brightest No More


Robert McNamara has died. What will Liza Minnelli and Usher say about this?

Rachel Slajda in TPM has a round-up of obits.

Marc Ambinder:

For people in Washington, McNamara’s folly was an institutional folly: the belief that one smart person with a vision can see what thousands of others with experience cannot.  The fog of war, the irrationality of human nature, the limits of formal chains of command, the limits of reason itself, and a fundamental conflation of decision-making and administration. John Ralston Saul, in Volatire’s Bastards, makes McNamara a central character in his tale of Western governments came to rely on a cult of credentialed, jargon-y experts to make decisions that were better left to politicians. This is not a conservative critique of the elite, per se: it’s merely a meditation on the limits of what humans can do, and know, and why it is dangerous to leave major decisions in the hands of people who think they can know.  We’ve see a version of this fallacy play out among the central actors in our economic crisis: CEOs and experts, quants and traders, who created an orderly world from something fundamentally, almost irreducibly complex.

Joshua Keating in Foreign Policy:

Because of his role in the Vietnam war, Mcnamara will likely be remembered as an archetypal cold warrior. In his retirement however, McNamara became an outspoken advocate of nuclear disarmament. His cover story from the May/June 2005 issue of Foreign Policy remains a must-read on the topic, particularly given today’s talks in Moscow

Matthew Vadum in American Spectator:

He was brilliant, the quintessential liberal do-gooder who sincerely believed he was doing the right thing but whose efforts almost invariably led to disaster.

His horrendous “Project 100,000” program was aimed at getting more black Americans serving in the military but was savaged as an attempt to use minorities as cannon fodder. Much like another liberal idealist a decade later, Jimmy Carter, the harder McNamara worked, the more he seemed to fail.

McNamara was a very interesting, tragic historical figure who in later life came to recognize the error of his ways.

We can learn from his mistakes.


McNamara thought he could modulate the warfare and thereby achieve an eventual peace agreement. By doing so he lost the impact of giving the communist a “hard knock” that many in the military thought was necessary. His modulation of the war made it longer and bloodier.

I don’t think he ever understood that. Instead he evolved into a position the anti war critics had embraced, that the war was never winnable. In fact it was winnable, but he just did not want to follow a strategy that would win.


Jesus, anybody else feel like dying in the next week or two?

Here’s The Fog Of War:

UPDATE: James Joyner

Rod Dreher

UPDATE: #2: Dday

Jonathan Tobin in Commentary:

It can certainly be argued that America’s decision to militarily intervene in Vietnam was a mistake because that country’s strategic importance did not merit the commitment of such massive forces. But the notion that the U.S. effort to defeat the Communist attempt to subvert and then conquer South Vietnam was immoral ignores not only the context of the conflict but the consequences of the eventual American defeat that was set up by McNamara’s squandering of years of public support on ill-considered tactics. It was once thing to denounce the war in 1968, quite another after the exodus of the boat people and decades of bloody Stalinist repression there after the North’s military conquest of the South once America had abandoned the country to its sorry fate.

It would have been far better for McNamara to spend more time apologizing for his inept micromanaging of the war effort that squandered American and Vietnamese lives on a massive scale. It was ironic that in his later years he curried favor among the liberal intellectuals by calling Curtis LeMay a “war criminal” for the massive bombing of Japanese cities in 1945. While in control of the effort in Vietnam, he attempted the opposite strategy, employing American air power in minute pinprick attacks on selected targets in North Vietnam rather than using an overwhelming conventional attack. His tactic of gradual escalation only convinced the North Vietnamese that the Americans were not serious about winning the war and inflicted no serious damage. The lives lost in this campaign were simply thrown away. The North was not brought to the negotiating table until McNamara’s flawed ideas were discarded. A more comprehensive air assault on the North at the end of 1972 brought our prisoners home and forced the North to accept an independent South Vietnam although they threw out that agreement as soon as they thought the time was right.

On the McNamara/Rumsfeld connection:

Doug J.

Spencer Ackerman

Kevin Drum

Lots of people a little older than me won’t agree with this, but I’ve always felt sorry for him.  I think part of the reason is that his personality is a lot like mine — it’s mine squared or cubed or to the tenth power or something, but still recognizably mine.  And so it’s easy for me to believe that if I had been in his situation I might have ended up doing many of the same things he did: overanalyzing the details, burying myself in work, staying too loyal to a cause for too long, avoiding the moral consequences of what I was doing, and then ending up haunted by it for the rest of my life.

Spencer Ackerman on Drum’s post:

Jesus, Kevin, whatever happened over the last 24 hours, it’s going to be OK. You’re a lot better than Robert McNamara. Your empathy is as admirable as it is wholly misplaced. You’re not a Robert McNamara That Could Have Been.

TNR has a round up, including an old Mickey Kaus piece.

Matt Y on the Mickey Kaus piece.

UPDATE #3: Fred Kaplan in Slate

James Fallows in the Atlantic

Peter Scoblic in TNR

UPDATE #4: Impossible to get all the McNamara commentary. Some MSM stuff:

George Will in WaPo

Matt Welch in Reason on Will’s piece

Jonathan Tobin in Commentary on Will’s piece

David Brooks and Gail Collins in NYT

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Filed under History, Movies, Political Figures

As Ramona Quimby Would Write, “No Smo King”

Congress has passed, and Obama will sign, a bill regulating the tobacco industry. Or, rather, letting the FDA regulate tobacco.

Tevi Troy in National Review:

I’m no fan of cigarettes, but the Senate’s just-passed tobacco regulation bill is a problem area for the Food and Drug Administration for two reasons. First, the FDA’s role is to regulate food and drugs and deem them safe for use. Tobacco, which would be regulated by the FDA under the bill, is neither food nor drug, and thus constitutes uncharted territory for the FDA. Given how dangerous tobacco is, it’s extremely difficult for the FDA to declare tobacco in any way to be safe and maintain its public-health credibility.

DefendOurConstitution at Daily Kos

Story on Marketplace. Diane Rehm show from Wednesday on the bill.

Jacob Sullum in Reason:

The bill, which President Obama supports, authorizes the FDA to regulate tobacco products. Yet it says “consumers are likely to be confused and misled” if they know the FDA is regulating tobacco products. They might mistakenly believe that FDA regulation makes these products safer, for example, when the opposite is the truth.

It’s easy to understand why Philip Morris supported this bill. The market leader can expect to benefit from the limits on advertising and promotion, the regulatory burden on smaller competitors, and the ban on every “characterizing” flavor except the one it happens to use in some of its most successful brands (menthol). But the company may be wrong to believe that FDA regulation will allow it to pursue plans for safer cigarettes.

To introduce a “modified risk product,” a manufacturer has to convince the FDA not only that the product will “significantly reduce harm and the risk of tobacco-related disease to individual tobacco users” but also that it will “benefit the health of the population as a whole, taking into account both users of tobacco products and persons who do not currently use tobacco products.” Alternatively, if “scientific evidence is not available and, using the best available scientific methods, cannot be made available without conducting long-term epidemiological studies,” the FDA can let a manufacturer advertise reduced levels of certain substances in cigarette smoke, but only if the agency decides it “would be appropriate to promote the public health.”

This collectivist standard means the FDA can keep a product off the market even if it is indisputably safer than conventional cigarettes, based on fears that it will attract nonsmokers or smokers who otherwise would have given up tobacco entirely. That same hurdle applies to the promotion of existing products.

Joe Trippi

Josh Marshall at TPM

UPDATE: Jonathan Adler

James Joyner

UPDATE #2: Alex Koppelman

UPDATE #3: Michelle Malkin

UPDATE #4: Tyler Cowen

UPDATE #5: George Will in WaPo. Alex Massie commenting on George Will in WaPo.


Filed under Legislation Pending, Public Health

George Will V. Portland, Oregon

George Will‘s column in Newsweek about transporation.

Matt Y:

Will claims to find it unbelievable that as many as 0.01 percent of Americans would ever bike to work regularly. But rather than tossing off ridicule, he might have looked up the Census Bureau’s statistics on commuting patterns and seen that right now 0.4 percent of commuters normally get to work on bicycles. Now that’s a small percentage. But it’s forty times larger than a percentage that Will deems unrealistically utopian. This would be like saying Dwight Howard is 2 feet tall.

Chris at Sully’s points out Christopher Orr‘s post at TNR:

The peculiar, and rather disappointing, Andy Roonification of George Will seems ongoing. There was, course, his extended climate-change crankery, and then his curmudgeonly and wildly ill-informed diatribe against denim. Now, in Newsweek, Will takes aim at Portland, Oregon, and efforts to reduce auto traffic generally.

Now, Rep. Earl Blumenaur (D-Ore.) has challenged Will to a debate.

Eric Zimmermann at The Hill.

Matt Y

UPDATE: Jason Zengerle at TNR

UPDATE #2: Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon

UPDATE #3: Paul Krugman



Filed under Infrastructure, Mainstream, Media