Thursday, November 30, 2006

Michael Dukakis Gains Parking Victory at UCLA

He didn't win the presidency in 1988, but Michael Dukakis looks to be winning a local parking battle in the neighborhoods adjacent to UCLA. Here's the introduction to the front-page Los Angeles Times story:

Michael Dukakis lost his bid for president in 1988, but he can declare victory in his latest campaign — against parking scofflaws in Westwood.

The former Massachusetts governor has been at the center of a more than two-year battle against the longtime practice of "apron parking" in the neighborhood west of UCLA known as North Village. There, parked cars spill out of apartment driveways and straddle sidewalks and streets.

"It's a disaster," said Dukakis, who teaches public policy at UCLA and lives part-time in the neighborhood. "Beyond being illegal, it's dangerous. You get two SUVs with their rear ends sticking out into the street, and you end up with a one-way road. It's time to end it."

Los Angeles city officials are now listening to Dukakis and the other critics of apron parking. As soon as January, parking enforcement officers will begin aggressively ticketing cars that partly block streets and sidewalks.

The campaign is expected to leave many residents scrambling for parking. There are only 857 legal curb spaces in North Village, but about 5,700 vehicles belonging to residents. The demand gets far worse when students commuting to UCLA comb the streets for parking spots.

Though apron parking is illegal, Los Angeles officials have allowed the practice in the neighborhood for decades because of the parking crunch.

But Dukakis argues that apron parking is dangerous. He has pleaded his case to city leaders and even admonished parking enforcement officers on the streets.

Dukakis told one officer who was ticketing a car in the red zone that she was missing the other illegally parked cars down the street."

I said, 'You're tagging this guy because he's over the red line, but what about those 15 cars up there parked illegally?' " Dukakis said.

"She said, 'I know, but there's not enough parking up here.' " He told her that maybe those parked illegally should take the bus.

"She looked at me like I had 10 heads or something," Dukakis said.
The parking clean-up effort was dubbed "The Dukakis Project." The former Democratic presidential nominee was able to convince officials to make a change by arguing that the city was out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. That got the city attorney's attention -- can't let the wheelchair lobby come calling with their disability rights activists and attorneys!

I like Dukakis,
but I'll never forget his 1988 ride in a tank,where looking like Mickey Mouse, he further consolidated the Democratic Party's image as soft on defense.

Dukakis' Wikipedia entry is here.

Can Bush Save His Social Security Legacy?

The lead editorial at today's Wall Street Journal, discussing upcoming congressional reform efforts on Social Security, warns President Bush against negotiating away his substantial legacy on entitlement reform. The cornerstone of the Bush Social Security plan is the creation of individual retirement accounts, which would move the New Deal-era program toward eventual privatization. The Democrats may not move forward, however, unless the administration casts off the president's goal for more individual control over retirement benefits:

The evident White House hope is that, in return for this retreat on personal accounts, Democrats would agree to reduce the growth of future Social Security benefits. Specifically, that means some form of "progressive indexing" that Mr. Bush endorsed in a failed attempt to coax Democrats from their just-say-no Social Security strategy in 2005.

Promoted by financier Robert Pozen, "progressive indexing" would adjust future Social Security benefits according to a cost-of-living index. Currently, benefits rise each year based on the increase in average wages, which over time has meant about 1% a year faster than general price inflation. This wasn't part of Social Security's original plan but became law in 1977 as politicians sought to buy off the senior lobby by increasing benefits. This means retiree benefits will double in inflation-adjusted dollars by 2077--so changing to an inflation standard certainly makes fiscal sense.

The Pozen plan is also "means-tested," meaning that the wages standard would change to the inflation standard on a gradual basis as retiree incomes rise. Lower-income workers would see no change in their benefit formula. Estimates are that the Pozen plan would nonetheless save enough money to eliminate about 70% of Social Security's current unfunded future liabilities. The White House hope is that if Democrats agreed to "progressive indexing," they and the President could then declare a bipartisan political triumph of having "saved" Social Security.

We endorsed the Pozen proposal last year, but that was when it was floated as a tradeoff for personal Social Security accounts. If those accounts are now off the table, then this kind of "grand bargain" is no bargain at all.

It is true that the Pozen plan would reduce future taxpayer liabilities on paper, but the key words are "on paper." No one can guarantee that future Congresses won't turn around and promise greater benefits once again as Congress did in 1977 and many other times over the years, even if the 110th Congress agrees to the Pozen formula. Al Gore used the temporary budget surplus as an excuse to promise more benefits as recently as the 2000 Presidential campaign.

More broadly, genuine Social Security reform is about more than federal accounting and "solvency." It ought to be about individual ownership and retirement independence. Personal accounts are a way to let younger workers--especially lower-income workers--put some of their payroll taxes into accounts that they would own and could grow over time. They would build wealth, and their future benefits wouldn't depend on the whims of future politicians. The Pozen plan by itself merely reduces their benefits and maintains Social Security as a cross-generational income transfer program.

As for "bipartisan" politics, Democrats cynically refused even to discuss Social Security reform last year, though they well know that benefits will soon start exceeding payroll tax revenues. Now that Democrats run Congress, they can reduce future benefits if they want to. But if they now want Republicans to give them political cover for doing so, at least the start of personal accounts should be part of the price.
The Pozen proposal is a great idea, because there's going to have to be some combination of benefit cuts or revenue increases for Social Security to remain solvent. Nevertheless, as I've mentioned in a previous post, the ultimate beauty of Bush's entitlement reform agenda has been the vision of social welfare through an "ownership society." This administration may not achieve that goal, though, and if personal accounts are completely discarded by the new Democratic majority, the ultimate shift toward privatization may become nothing but a conservative's dream.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Civil War in Iraq? Implications for the U.S. Mission

There's some current debate over the labeling of the Iraq conflict as a civil war. Today's Los Angeles Times has a piece by Barry Lando discussing the decision by both NBC News and the Times to adopt the civil war terminology.

What are the implications of adopting the civil war label? Over at the new National Interest,
Stephen Biddle argues that Iraq has long been in civil war and the fact of enduring sectarian conflict makes victory in Iraq exceedingly difficult:

Iraq may or may not become a stable democracy someday—but the demonstration effect is already lost. Complete success is thus unlikely. But total failure can still be averted.

The challenge here is not to avert civil war, however. Iraq is already in a civil war—and has been for a long time. It is too late for prevention. The real challenge now is termination.

This means we need to shift from a strategy designed for classical counter-insurgency to one designed for terminating an ongoing civil war....

Current U.S. policy, however, undermines our prospects for this in at least two ways. First, we have little leverage for compelling the mutual compromises needed for real power sharing. Each camp sees potentially genocidal stakes in power sharing: the downside risks if the deal fails to ensure their security could be mass violence at the hands of communal rivals. Against such enormous stakes, major leverage will be needed to convince nervous parties to accept the risks; U.S. offers of development aid or trade assistance or political recognition are trivial by comparison. And this thin gruel is getting thinner as the United States begins to cut even the modest aid we now provide—the Marshall Plan this is not. Such weak leverage will never persuade Iraqis to take the huge risks involved in real compromise.

Second, we are apparently unwilling to play the role of long-term peacekeeping stabilizer. Though disliked by many Iraqis, in principle U.S. forces could still do this. In recent months American efforts in suppressing Shi‘a militias and our comparative sectarian evenhandedness in places such as Tal Afar and Baghdad are persuading Sunnis that we are potential defenders against Shi‘a violence. Though Shi‘a are wary of American motives, three years of U.S. combat against Sunni guerillas give us the bona fides to keep Shi‘a trust if we play our cards right. We can be neutral—the problem is that we are not willing to stay. Who would trust a deal enforced by a peacekeeper who announces its intention to leave as soon as it can hand its job over to one of the combatants in an ongoing civil war?

Theoretically, at least, the second problem could be solved if we could create a truly national, rather than sectarian, institution in the Iraqi security forces to replace us—a force with true intercommunal balance; with soldiers and officers who see themselves as Iraqis and not as Shi‘a, Kurds or Sunnis; that fights any rebel or protects any population regardless of sect or ethnicity; and with the competence and motivation to defeat those rebels in battle. There are a host of practical barriers to accomplishing this in objective reality, ranging from the increasing salience of subnational identity among all Iraqis since 2003, to the reticence of many Iraqi recruits to fight outside their home provinces (in practical terms, a reluctance to do something other than defend their subgroup from outsiders), to the challenge of motivating soldiers to give their lives for a government many see as corrupt or incompetent, to the difficulties of establishing modern systems of pay, leave, resupply and administration in a society which has seen little efficient public administration in the past, to many other challenges large and small.

But a more fundamental problem is perceptual. Even if the Iraqi military were, in reality, a competent, evenhanded, nonsectarian force, Sunnis do not see it that way. All polls show radical differences in trust for the national security forces across communal groups, and the Sunnis clearly do not trust the state’s instruments. This should be no surprise: Overcoming this inevitable lack of trust in an ongoing civil war is extremely difficult. This is why the civil war termination literature puts such stress on outside peacekeepers. To build trust across such divides is hard enough in a postwar peace policed by others; to believe Iraqis can do this themselves in the midst of the fighting after the only quasi-neutral force—ours—has departed would require tremendous optimism.
Today's lead editorial at the Wall Street Journal is critical of the civil war label, arguing that it essentially implies impending defeat for the U.S. project in Iraq:

The sectarian violence is a horrible problem. But by any reasonable definition, a "civil war" implies at least two militarily strong factions with a popular claim on political leadership. Neither of those conditions exists in Iraq.

The country's elected, pan-sectarian government and its several hundred thousand security forces remain the only legitimate power center. The Sunni insurgents, meanwhile, are a mix of Islamists and Baathists who enjoy little support and are capable only of terrorist-style attacks. They hold sway only through murder and intimidation in areas where the government lacks enough troops to assure public safety. Shiite militia leaders are also divided and what support they enjoy is due to the perception among ordinary Shiites that the government has been unable to protect them. Few Shiites would be eager to see Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical cleric, in Mr. Maliki's chair.

The next Iraqi or American official to be asked about "civil war" might want to reply by asking the journalist who, precisely, is fighting whom, and why Iraqi security officers of all backgrounds continue to risk their lives for the elected Baghdad government. The truth is that the enemies of Mr. Maliki's government are terrorists and thugs. Mr. Bush could help give Mr. Maliki the confidence he needs for the tough fight ahead--first against the Sunni terrorists, then against the Shiite revenge killers--by assuring him that U.S. policy will be based on this fact.
Reading these two excerpts, it's clear there's disagreement on what to label the conflict -- civil war or sectarian violence. Yet there's also consensus on the need for the U.S. to maintain a robust troop presence in Iraq going forward. Biddle is realistic in stating that U.S. opinion does not take well to "peacekeeping" operations, and the midterm elections showed that the American public has little stomach for extending the Iraq mission indefinitely.

As I've noted before, we need a political compromise among the Iraqis. Meanwhile, the U.S. would continue to contain the terrorist violence with the ultimate goal of moving toward a limited drawdown and an increased advisory role for American forces.

Hunting is on the Decline in America

Hunting sportsman Steve Tuttle has an evocative lament of the decline of hunting in America in this week's Newsweek.

He notes that he wept at making his first kill as a boy, a rabbit that was still alive upon retrieval: "My father reached down, picked up the rabbit by its hind legs, and gave him a karate chop on the back of the neck, killing him instantly. He looked up at me and said, 'Good shot, boy!' and handed me the rabbit."

Tuttle says that was the day he became a man:

There aren't that many boys today who grew up the way I did—kids who are willing to put down their Gameboys, pick up a rifle and head out into the field. Hunting in America has entered a long twilight. The number of license holders—roughly 15 million through 2004—has actually shrunk by about 2 million people since 1982, when the population was 230 million (versus 300 million today). Since 1990, the number of license holders in Massachusetts has dropped by 50,000, or 40 percent; in California since 1980 the number has fallen by almost half, from 540,000 to 300,000. In Michigan, there were 1.2 million licensed hunters in 1992—but fewer than 850,000 in 2004. Hunters are aging: about seven in 10 are older than 35 (in 1980, only four in 10 were over 35). The reasons for hunting's decline are pretty basic: fewer fields and streams and hills full of game to hunt (Census data show that urban America more than doubled in acreage from 1960 to 1990); more restrictions and lawsuits; more videogames and diversions to keep junior (and his dad) on the couch.

Many people are not sorry to see the hunters go. Groups like PETA, the Fund for Animals and the Humane Society of the United States have long lobbied to curtail hunting around the country. The Humane Society's Web site describes hunting for sport as "fundamentally at odds with the values of a humane, just and caring society." To city dwellers and suburbanites, hunters can seem bloodthirsty. The people who live in hunt country are also wary of reckless weekend warriors. Farmers have been known to hang THIS IS NOT A DEER signs on their cows. Where I grew up, on the slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Bath County, Va., my father was a game warden who would investigate hunting accidents, and he brought home stories of careless hunters falling out of deer stands or tripping over fences and blowing their limbs off. One of my neighbors got shot just by stepping out of the passenger's side of the car. His buddy, the driver, had illegally laid his rifle across the car roof to steady his shot. According to the International Hunter Education Association, there were some 800 total hunting "incidents" involving shooting in the United States in 2002, the last year for which complete statistics are available. Seventy-five of those resulted in fatalities.

Most hunters, however, are taught to be careful. I learned, like most boys do, from my father, Bill. With him, there were strict rules to follow as you worked your way up the gun ladder, from BB gun to .22 rifle, to .410 shotgun to .20 gauge, and finally to 30.06 deer rifle. If you didn't respect the gun or what he said, you didn't get to move up or go hunting. Every time you picked up a gun you checked to see if it was loaded and the safety was on. You never mixed drinking and hunting. You always stored the gun and ammunition separately, and never kept a loaded gun in the house. You always knew where your buddies were, and you shot to kill, so the animal did not suffer.

Read the whole thing. This article touches upon one more piece of the traditional ways of America that are fading into history. We'll always have hunting, of course. It just won't be the coming-of-age activity that it had been throughout our wilderness experience.

My dad always had guns around the house, be we weren't a hunting family. Outdoor sports ran stronger on my mom's side of the family. My uncle was a mountain man, who engaged in just about every rigorous action sport one could imagine.
I last wrote about gun culture in this post on whether teachers should be packing firearms in the classroom.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Rise of Asian-Americans at University of California Revives Affirmative Action Debate

Today's San Diego Union Tribune has an interesting article on the emergence of an Asian-American majority at some campuses of the University of California. Asian students have been so successful that civil rights activists are calling for a repeal of Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot initiative that eliminated racial prefences in state employment, contracting, and university admissions. Here are the details:

Will Asian-Americans one day make up a majority of students at the University of California?

If the trend of the past decade continues, it just might happenThe number of Asian-American students at University of California campuses far outpaces their population increase in the state. These students attended a physics class at UC San Diego.

This month marks the 10-year anniversary of the passage of Proposition 209, the state initiative that banned using racial preferences in public university admissions and state hiring and contracting.

At the highly competitive University of California, where grades and test scores drive admissions, the enrollment trend is clear: Asian-American student numbers have grown the most, far outpacing their population increase in the state.

Asian-Americans – 14.1 percent of California's 2005 high school graduating class – make up 41.8 percent of the freshman class at UC campuses, up from 36 percent a decade ago.

Meanwhile, blacks at 3 percent and whites at 32.2 percent make up smaller shares of UC's freshman class than they did previously. Latinos account for 16.3 percent of UC freshmen, up from 13 percent a decade ago, but still less than half their 36.5 percentage of state high school graduates.

The changes to UC's student demographics are definitive, but many continue to debate Proposition 209's merits – and its effects....

As a whole, Asian-American student numbers at UC have grown more than any other ethnic group each year since Proposition 209 passed in 1996. (At California State University's 23 campuses, the ethnicity of its freshman class has remained generally steady over the last decade.)

Asian undergraduates already make up the largest racial group at seven of the nine UC undergraduate campuses. Only University of California Santa Cruz and University of California Santa Barbara have remained majority white in the past decade. At University of California Irvine, Asians make up a majority of undergraduates, or 51 percent.

Many academics agree that one thing driving the student numbers at UC is the growth of the Asian population in California. Another factor is Asians' prioritizing of education and economic ability to choose schools that better prepare students for college, said Robert Teranishi, an assistant professor at New York University, who has studied Asian-American trends in higher education.

So, the success of one previously disadvantaged minority has prompted activists to push for a restoration of racial preferences in admissions, which will obviously discriminate against the most prepared students. Here's the article's take on Propostion 209, including a classic quota-driven comment from an affirmative action suppporter arguing for greater "diversity":

Some say Proposition 209 has done great harm. Mostly notably, they point to the precipitous drop in black student numbers at UC.

There are 96 blacks in the freshman class of about 4,800 at the University of California Los Angeles this year. About 50 black freshmen are enrolled at the University of California San Diego this fall, making up only 1 percent of the class. If Proposition 209 remains in place, critics say, complete ethnic groups will lose access to the state's most prestigious public universities.

“It perpetuates a stratification and racially segmented society, and that's bad for the soul of academia,” said Maria Blanco, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization.

Blanco said it was unfair to judge all students by the same admissions criteria when the high school resources available to them, such as honors class offerings, vary so dramatically across the state.

"Racially segmented society," eh? It's been over forty years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the widespread implementation of affirmative action in America's colleges and universities. I see Blanco's remarks as admitting that blacks and hispanics can't cut it in today's competitive, merit based society -- thus, we need to lower standards. Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations!

Asian Americans are already claiming that admissions officers at the nation's elite schools are discriminating against them because of their high acceptance rates. We're almost to the point in which liberals would fully discard academic excellence and scholarly merit in favor of "diversity." Diversity's great. I teach at one of the most diverse college campuses in the country. Yet, acceptance to the elite schools should not be determined by the goal of maximizing diversity and its purported benefits in "helping with students' critical thinking and social skills."

I've already suggested that blacks will increase their representation at elite universities when they develop an ethic of academic achievement and overcome the nihilist oppositional culture of many black youth. In any case, with the success of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, Ward Connerly, the original backer of Proposition 209, sees the era of affirmative action coming to an end. I hope he's right.

The Republicans and Political Moderation: Must the GOP Find its Centrist Roots?

Christine Todd Whitman makes the case over at the Philidelphia Inquirer that the Republican Party's future lies in reclaiming the political middle:

Moderate Republicans paid a heavy price in the GOP's loss of control of Congress.

After the 2004 election, pundits were predicting the dawn of a generation of Republican dominance. Karl Rove was being hailed as the "architect" of this coming era. His strategy of solidifying the hard-right base of the GOP by feeding them a steady diet of extreme positions on social issues that would, in turn, motivate them to flock to the polls was credited with securing President Bush's reelection and retaining control of Congress.

This month, the limits of that strategy became clear. In more than a dozen House districts in which moderate Republicans had long succeeded, voters apparently decided they were no longer willing to empower the hard-right of the GOP by electing moderates who would contribute to a Republican majority....

Nationwide, all Democratic candidates for the House and Senate received more than six million more votes than Republicans did. That is twice the number of votes by which President Bush beat John Kerry in 2004.

Nearly two years ago, in my book It's My Party Too, I warned that the "danger Republicans face today is that the party will move so far to the right that it ends up alienating centrist voters and marginalizing itself."

Critics at the time dismissed my argument. Here's how one put it: "If the GOP was in such dire need of a political makeover, there would be a clamor from Republicans to find a winning formula. There isn't - they've already got one." The results of Nov. 7 suggest otherwise.

I believe, however, that within the results of this year's electoral defeats are the seeds of future Republican victories, but only if those seeds are planted in the center of the political landscape.

President Bush has to lead the Republican Party back toward its traditional, philosophical roots of respect for and belief in the individual, fiscal responsibility, pragmatic and realistic foreign policy, and real environmental stewardship.

The Republican minorities in both houses of Congress must also resist the temptation to play the role of obstructionists. Indeed, I suspect they will find areas where they can build strong bipartisan coalitions in favor of sensible action in such areas as immigration and stem-cell research, if they are willing to move back to the center, where the best policy-making often gets done.

As governor of Texas, George W. Bush showed that he could work with Democrats. By 1998, when he was up for reelection, his success in working across party lines had become the hallmark of his first term. As Governing magazine, published by Congressional Quarterly, said that year: "All governors have to compromise to get things done. But few of them look as good doing it as George W. Bush." Now is the time for the president to show he can be the "uniter" he promised six years ago.

The lesson the Republicans should take away from the midterm elections is that, over the long term, elections in the United States are won by building majorities that reach toward the center. That's not just the best way to win elections, but it's also the best way to govern.

For the sake of my party and the future of our country, the president must begin to reach out to the center of the Republican Party and the Democratic majority in Congress. If he does, the next two years could very well be the most productive of his presidency.

There's something to be said for the party moving back "toward its traditional, philosophical roots." There's a selective conservativism in this administration and certainly congressional Republicans lost their vision of smaller, better government after 10 years in the majority on Capital Hill. But Republicans are divided by their factional wings, for example, on immigration reform, where an elite-level globalist orienation collides with a culturally conservative grassroots resigning itself to the status quo of out of control borders. Can conservatives return to respect for the rule of law?

And don't get me started about fiscal conservatism! It's a laudable goal to expand prescription drug coverage for the elderly, but elderly entitlements are bankrupting the country. Perhaps conservatives could seek to inject greater market principles into the provision of social welfare benefits, promoting more personal responsibility over retirement and so forth,
which was an original goal of President Bush's "ownership society."

Monday, November 27, 2006

The African AIDS Crisis and the Death of Nations

Today's Los Angeles Times has a powerfully disturbing photo-essay on the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, "The Orphans of AIDS." Here's the brief opening essay:

In 1990, nine years after the AIDS virus was identified, the map showing the worldwide spread of the disease displayed most of Africa in the palest pink. The infection rate among adults was less than 1%. Since then, the colors have deepened faster here than anywhere else on Earth. Southern Africa now is colored a bloody crimson. The infection rate is more than 15%.

The statistics have been repeated so often they cease to shock, even as they soar: 25 million people have died worldwide. Forty million are living with HIV, the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and as many as 14.5 million children have been orphaned by the disease, according to UNAIDS.

The United Nations Development Program said last year that AIDS had caused the biggest reversal in human development ever recorded.Just as African countries were beginning to make headway on improving quality of life and decreasing mortality in the 1990s, the rising pandemic started to erase many of their gains.

In fact, so sweeping are the repercussions of AIDS that some have asked whether the smaller states in southern Africa might simply collapse under the strain.

If all that is difficult to measure, the cost to families and individuals is incalculable.

Funerals have replaced weddings as the main family ceremony. People struggle to buy medicine. They borrow to pay for funerals. Breadwinners die and families plunge into poverty and hunger. Many families are made up of orphans and grandparents.

Unprotected orphans are exploited sexually or economically, often by their relatives. A myth persists in parts of Africa that sex with a virgin can cure AIDS, a factor in the upsurge of rapes of babies and girls. No one can calculate the cost. Southern Africa can only try to endure the successive waves of infection, illness and death.
Be sure to view the full photographic slide show.

Laurie Garrett,
in a 2005 Foreign Affairs essay, suggested that HIV/AIDS is the most complex disease ever faced by the international community:

Unlike the massive pandemics of the past, such as the Black Death or the influenza outbreak of 1918-19, HIV/AIDS inflicts death very slowly. For three decades, the current pandemic has created waves of infection, followed years later by waves of acute disease, and years after that by waves of death and family disruption. In the prior two megaplagues, the periods between infection, illness, and death and family disruption were days to weeks. Entire societies experienced the shock simultaneously, grieved in unison, and witnessed the impact on the society and state as one.

In the case of HIV/AIDS, however, the intervals between these waves have lasted up to 14 years, and the waves themselves have been staggered, with the progression of infection and illness varying from person to person and region to region. Successive high-amplitude waves have swept over sub-Saharan Africa for up to four human generations. On the other hand, low-amplitude waves have gone almost unnoticed for ten years or more in India, Indonesia, Russia, Southeast Asia, and Ukraine. Only now are these areas experiencing large-scale infection. Illness, death, and the mass creation of orphans are still ahead.

Even within Africa, the timing of HIV/AIDS and its impact have varied. The Great Lakes region has been suffering for 35 years now, long enough that every facet of society there has been reshaped. On the other hand, Botswana, Malawi, Swaziland, and most of western Africa are now in a third generation of low-amplitude waves. South Africa, Namibia, and Angola have yet to experience the full death tolls of their first, rapidly rising wave of infection....

The long shock waves caused by AIDS, moreover, are washing over many countries that are simultaneously being swamped by other diseases -- malaria, tuberculosis, childhood dysentery, gonorrhea, antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, and newly emerging infections such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Marburg virus. Many of these countries also suffer from other problems that impede economic development and cause social disruption, such as military conflict and social unrest. It is therefore extremely difficult to predict how HIV/AIDS will affect these states and their societies, economies, cultures, and politics. The full impact may not be known for a generation, and the results will vary around the planet. The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS and the Shell Corporation have attempted to model the pandemic's future, and their forecasts are gloomy. And even these predictions depend on government actions that may not be taken.

Politicians are usually shortsighted, and those making HIV/AIDS policy have proved to be no exception. To date, no HIV/AIDS policy enacted by any government or by the UN addresses more than one HIV/AIDS wave's worth of activity, and most epidemic policies have only been implemented in reaction to specific instances of public outcry. Few political leaders and officials recognize that current anti-HIV/AIDS drugs are not curative and, to fend off death, must be taken daily for the rest of a patient's life. The World Health Organization, in a program funded by rich nations, intends by year's end to equip a modest three million people in poor countries with antiretroviral drugs. But to be effective, the program must last for many years rather than be a one-time expense. If wealthy donors cut off their assistance, few poor countries will be able to pick up the treatment costs on their own. A massive wave of death would ensue, as the rich world turned off the life support system of all three million people.
Of all the political science subjects in which I study and lecture, I'm still perplexed by the challenge of development and survival in Sub-Saharan Africa. Fortunately, as this Boston Globe article points out, President Bush's Africa AIDS program is having a substantial and positive impact on the crisis. Billions of dollars have been sent to stressed nations to make available powerful antiretroviral drugs and other treatments. The story notes, of course, that global AIDS activists are reluctant to give the administration any credit for the hopeful progress occurring on the continent.

What Grandma Would Say About Immigration Reform

Peggy Noonan, over at the Wall Street Journal this weekend, published one of the most thoughtful essays on immigration reform I've read all year. She cites an 1858 speech by Abraham Lincoln, who spoke admirably about those Americans who could trace their bloodlines back to the Revolution. Lincoln also spoke about those who couldn't, and argued that newer immigrants were ultimately of the same flesh and blood as those who wrote the Declaration of Independence:

I love those words by Lincoln, and believe them. But it continues to amaze that 148 years after he said them, who populates America is still a matter of urgent argument.

Much of course has changed. Immigration in Lincoln's day was open and legal. Now it is open in effect because overwhelmingly illegal in practice. If you want to come across the border, you can, essentially, come. You make the decision about what is best for you; America does not make the decision as to what is best for it. Both Congress and the White House, our official deciders, will likely do in the next session what they did in the last: spend a lot of time trying to confuse people into thinking they're closing the borders without actually closing them. There will be talk again of fences, partial fences, fencelike entities and virtual fences. While they dither and mislead, towns and cities will continue to attempt to make their own immigration policy.

You know the facts. Immigrants are here in huge numbers, unlawfully, in the age of terror. They swell the cost of local life--emergency rooms, schools--which has an impact on local taxes. There are towns and cities that feel, and are, overwhelmed. And no one will help them.

The essential reason, I think, is that America's elites don't want America's borders closed. Businesses want low-wage workers; intellectuals are wed to global visions of cross-border prosperity; politicians want Hispanic loyalty and the Hispanic vote. It's not convenient for any of them to close the borders. If Americans on the ground are enduring difficulties over this, it's . . . too bad. This is further eroding America's already eroding faith in its institutions.

I think there are two unremarked elements of the debate that are now contributing to the government's inability or refusal to come up with a solution.

The problem is not partisanship. It is not polarization, not really. Sentiments on this of all issues in the nation of immigrants are and would be complicated, nuanced. The problem is doctrinaire-ness. Even as both parties have become less philosophical, less tied to their animating philosophies, they have become more doctrinaire. The people who should be solving the immigration problem are holding fiercely to abstractions--to big-think economic theory, to emanations of penumbras in the law--instead of facing a crucial, concrete and immediate challenge.

The second element is definitiveness. Our political figures say they have to concentrate on an overall, long-term, comprehensive answer to the immigration problem. So they huff and puff about the long-term implications of this move or that, and in the end they do nothing.

They are like people in a burning house who sit around discussing the long-term efficacy of various kinds of water hoses while the house burns down around them.

More and more our leaders forget the common sense of grandma. In most everyone's family there was a grandma who used to sit quietly in the corner and say nothing. Then someone would ask her opinion just to be polite, and she'd say something so wise, so commonsensical, it stopped everyone in their tracks. And you realized that she was smart, that she'd lived a life and seen things.

In the case of illegal immigration in America I think grandma would say, "Stop it. Build a wall. But put doors in the wall so when the problem is over, you can open the doors."

America has, since 1980, experienced the biggest wave of immigrants since the great wave of 1880-1920. And we have never stopped to absorb it. We have never stopped to digest what we've eaten. Is it any wonder we have indigestion?

We don't really have to solve the problem forever. We just have to solve it now. One wonders why we don't stop illegal immigration, now. Absorb, settle down, ease pressures--for now. Why not be empirical, and find out what's true? Some say stopping illegal immigration will lead to an increase in wages for low-income workers. This is to be desired. Let's find out if it happens.

And why not give the latest waves of immigrants time to become Americans? Time to absorb our meaning and history and traditions. Isn't that the way to help them feel "more attached" and "more firmly bound to the country we inhabit"?

I'm not sure we need more globalism, but I feel certain we need more grandmaism. A happy Thanksgiving to all, old and new.

Noonan is right on the money. As regular readers here will recall, I don't oppose immigration. Waves of newcomers have been a fundamental source of vitality throughout this country's history. Indeed, check this entry for a powerful example of successful assimilation among legal immigrants in California. I do oppose lawbreaking, however, and I've denounced the look-the-other-way mentality of the elites Noonan mentions.

Recall a couple of weeks back I posted on
the groundswell of support in various states for English only legislation. I think Americans on the ground -- who are outside of the insularity of the Washington Beltway, and who have a realistic appreciation of the social disruptions of unstopped immigration -- know that it's time to slow the flow of newcomers to the country. The unchecked waves of immigration over the last decade or so have left pockets of unassimilated enclaves around the country. As this Business Week article points out, the U.S. is at risk of becoming an "Hispanic Nation" unless we move to slow the movement of people across our borders and fully incorporate our new countrymen into the fabric of society.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Can Elliot Abrams Save the Neoconservatives?

The new edition of Newsweek has an interesting piece on Elliot Abrams, one of the last neoconservatives in the Bush administration. Abrams remains committed to the administration's democracy promotion program, and he's apparently at odds with the Baker Commission's recommendations for Middle East regional negotiation and U.S. withdrawal from Iraq:

It's been a rough season for neoconservatives, the group that has dominated U.S. foreign policy since the attacks of September 11. They've been largely run out of the Bush administration, beset by infighting, and mocked by a foreign-policy establishment that hailed their power just a few years ago. Last month was particularly brutal. They looked on helplessly as Democrats took both houses of Congress. They had to grit their teeth when President Bush met with Washington dealmakers James Baker and Lee Hamilton, whose bipartisan group is charged with extricating America from the mess the neocon-influenced policy created in Iraq. Then, insult to injury: they watched their cold-war nemesis in Central America circa 1986, Daniel Ortega, rise again to be president of Nicaragua.

The neocons are reeling, but they're not dead yet. A few stalwarts are digging in their wing-tips. And there's already a small backlash against the backlash. At the State Department, supposedly the bastion of realism, some officials are sounding defiant. "There are a lot of people throughout the ranks who believe in the democracy agenda," says one senior official who would only discuss policy issues anonymously. "If the result of the Baker report is that we have to make any deal necessary ... to get out of Iraq, I don't think that's going to fly." Their hopes, and the hopes of neocons everywhere, may rest on the shoulders of Elliott Abrams, the number-two official at the National Security Council—who remains in charge of promoting democracy in the Middle East, a linchpin of the neocon agenda.

Abrams, who declined an interview request from NEWSWEEK, has his work cut out for him. A Harvard-trained lawyer, Abrams handles the Middle East, though not Iraq. Earlier this year, Abrams pushed for an $85 million expansion of TV and radio programming beamed into Iran to gently promote regime change. Now, toppling the mullahs might be off the table. The same goes for the policy of pushing reforms on Arab allies like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, who has kept a key opposition figure in jail for more than 11 months and scaled back rights. Michael Gerson, who served until recently as Bush's speechwriter (and who is now a NEWSWEEK contributor), says Abrams must be troubled by the swing. "People who support the democracy agenda are deeply concerned that Mubarak is significantly backtracking," Gerson says. And Abrams has to cope with the fallout of his push for Palestinian elections—the rise of Hamas, and the breakdown of the peace process. But Abrams has one powerful advantage. "Bush has enormous regard for him," says a senior administration official who would not speak about their relationship on the record. "One, because he knows Elliott is keeper of the flame. And also, he's the only one who doesn't draw any attention to himself." (Abrams has been somewhat press-shy ever since he admitted to withholding information from Congress about the Iran-contra affair two decades ago; he was later pardoned.)

The biggest dogfight is still ahead: whether to cut a deal with regimes like Iran, North Korea and Syria. Bush's approach has been to counter threats from oppressive regimes by trying to change them. Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and the punditocracy's best-known neocon, says it's hard to imagine the president turning his back on all that. "I think Bush is the last neocon in power," he says. "The truth is, it was always Bush."

Kristol acknowledges the neoconservatives are turn-ing on each other. Francis Fukuyama, the "End of History" sage, has broken with the neocons publicly and believes that they are discredited. Richard Perle, the former Pentagon adviser, now says he probably wouldn't have invaded Iraq at all (Perle refused to talk to NEWSWEEK). Kristol dismisses what he calls the "confessional mode" of his old friend Perle. But Kristol also believes the infighting is natural. "Every intellectual group, every political group, goes through a period of mini crackup and reassembles in slightly different ways," he told NEWSWEEK. "For a group that's discredited, an awful lot of people are spending an awful lot of time discrediting us." Kristol's allies are looking to Abrams to pick up the pieces.

In an earlier post I asked "Can the Neocons Get Their Groove Back?" Perhaps with Abrams enjoying such trust and support from President Bush, the neoconservative agenda can make a comeback. First thing's first, of course. Progress in Iraq will be the determining factor, and things have not been getting better amid continued violent sectarianism there. Perhaps the adminstration's call for a major troop push in 2007, combined with some U.S. moves to decouple Syria from Iran, will allow the United States to regain momentum in the Middle East and continue the drive for greater freedom in the region.

The Draft Would Weaken the American Military

This weekend's "Hot Topic" over at the Wall Street Journal focused on the way forward in Iraq, and especially on troop levels. Should the U.S. withdraw? Should we boost the number of troops (as John McCain has proposed), or should we begin a drawdown? Also mentioned is the prospect of a military draft, which has gained immediate attention with Representative Charles Rangel's call for military conscription as a matter of fairness across class and racial lines.

Rangel is quoted as saying:

There's no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq...if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way.
This is classic rhetoric from America's antiwar left, which sees the draft as impressment of the nation's poor at the service of American imperialism. Yet the paper's lead editorial provided a concise, empirical rebuttal to this leftist anti-military staple:

In this mythology, the military is overly reliant on uneducated dupes from poor communities because those from more affluent backgrounds don't want to serve. But the truth is closer to the opposite, according to a recent Heritage Foundation report on the demographic characteristics of the military. It's titled "Who Are the Recruits?" and Mr. Rangel, a Korean War veteran, might want to read it before implying that the military doesn't look like America.

According to the report, which analyzed the most recent Pentagon enlistee data, "the only group that is lowering its participation in the military is the poor. The percentage of recruits from the poorest American neighborhoods (with one-fifth of the U.S. population) declined from 18 percent in 1999 to 14.6 percent in 2003, 14.1 percent in 2004, and 13.7 percent in 2005." Put another way, if military burdens aren't spread more evenly among socio-economic groups in the U.S., it's because the poor are underrepresented.

Or consider education levels. In the general U.S. population, the high school graduation rate is a little under 80%. But among military recruits from 2003-2005, nearly 97% had high school diplomas. The academic quality of recruits has also been rising this decade. According to Heritage, the military defines a "high quality" recruit as someone who scores above the 50th percentile on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test and has a high school degree. The percentage of high quality recruits had climbed to 67% in 2004 and 64% in 2005, up from 57% in 2001.

And what about race? In 2004, about 76% of the U.S. population was white, which was only slightly above the 73% of military recruits (and 72% of Army recruits) who were white. Blacks made up 12.17% of the population in 2004, and made up 14.54% of recruits in 2004 and 13% in 2005. Hispanic Americans are also slightly overrepresented in the military compared to their share of the population, but also not to a degree that suggests some worrisome cultural chasm among the races.

The overall truth is that today's recruits come primarily from the middle class, and, more importantly, they come willingly. This makes them more amenable to training and more likely to adapt to the rigors of military culture. An Army of draftees would so expand the number of recruits that training resources would inevitably be stretched and standards watered down. Meanwhile, scarce resources would be devoted to tens of thousands of temporary soldiers who planned to leave as soon as their year or two of forced service was up.

It's true that such training would help to shape up more young Americans who could use a few weeks of Marine discipline at Parris Island, and if this is what Mr. Rangel has in mind he should say so. But the price would be a less effective fighting force, and precisely at a time when experience and technological mastery are more important than ever in a fighting force.

The draft would weaken our military. For more on this point, check out this piece by Michael O'Hanlon, who argues that an all-volunteer force is far superior to a conscript army. For a left-leaning argument in favor of the draft, check this Rolling Stone article, "The Return of the Draft."

Note also that it's not true that America's political leaders have shielded their kids from service in the military.
Phillip Baucus, the nephew of Senator Max Baucus of Montana, was killed in combat in Iraq. Also, check out my post on the New York Times article that discusses the history of miltary service among family members of our nation's political leaders.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Homosexuality and Bed-Wetting? Democrats to Revisit Policy on Gays in the Military

This week's Newsweek reports that the new Democratic Congress will take a fresh look at the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuals in the military. It turns out that the Pentagon has recently reclassified homosexuality, grouping it along with other deviant "conditions," such as bed-wetting, stuttering, and fear-of-flying:

With the Democrats in control of Congress, some activists are hoping they'll add a controversial issue to their to-do list: revisiting the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military. Gay servicemembers have sought a policy change for years. Now, says Steve Ralls, spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, gay vets hope they might make some progress at a time when the military can't afford to turn away the willing and able. Last year the Pentagon discharged 742 service members for homosexuality, according to SLDN.

But making a change won't be easy: gay-rights advocates have seen a troubling signal from the Pentagon. Massachusetts Rep. Martin Meehan and the American Psychiatric Association complained last June when they learned the military's disability policy classified homosexuality as a mental disorder—something the APA stopped doing in 1973. Then the Pentagon quietly reclassified it in July. Last week Meehan and the APA complained once more: homosexuality has now been grouped with other "conditions, circumstances and defects" like bed-wetting, repeated venereal-disease infections and obesity. The reclassification is "even worse," says Aaron Belkin, who studies gays in the military at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "Now [homosexuality] is explicitly deemed to be a defect." Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith says the Defense Department does "not think homosexuality is a mental illness" and says the classification could be re-examined.

The gay question has long been a political quagmire. Since Bill Clinton waded into the controversy in 1993, more than two dozen former senior military officers have denounced "don't ask," including Gen. Wesley Clark and Gen. Claudia Kennedy. "We have a much friendlier environment now," says Ralls, citing a more accepting attitude by the "Will & Grace" generation. Gay British soldiers serve alongside Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, sharing quarters. In Congress, Meehan has already introduced the Military Readiness Enhancement Act to replace "don't ask" with a nondiscrimination policy. He has 122 bipartisan cosponsors and hopes for hearings on the topic. Though GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter—a backer of "don't ask"—is on his way out as House Armed Services chair, his Democratic replacement, Rep. Ike Skelton, supports the current policy, too. And as the Pentagon's recent reclassification showed, there is still a long war ahead.

Don't ask, don't tell needs to get the boot. Aaron Belkin, who's quoted above, came in as an assistant professor at U.C. Santa Barbara during my last year in graduate school. Belkin's one of the country's top experts on gays and military service, and he helped establish the university's Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military.

In 2002, Belkin coauthored "A Modest Proposal: Privacy as a Flawed Rationale for the Exclusion of Gays and Lesbians from the U.S. Military," an excellent International Security article critical of Pentagon policy. One of the paper's main findings is that gay military service personnel -- in countries like Canada and Israel -- do not hamper combat effectiveness or troop morale. The prohibition against openly gay military service is bigoted and goes against the tradition of inclusion in American civil rights history -- and there are many patriotic gay Americans who would enrich the armed forces with their service. While I am critical of the political correctness of the radical left, this is one area where I don't think conservatives can sustain a strong claim in favor of policy continuation.

Big Wave Surfing at Maverick's May Be at Risk

A proposed ban on jet skis at Maverick's in Northern California is threatening the future of giant wave riding at the Half Moon Bay hot spot. This Los Angeles Times story has the background:

A proposal to protect marine life by banning tow-in surfers who zoom onto mountainous swells at the famous break Maverick's has the international surfing community wondering if California has seen the last of its mega-wave riding.

In a draft management plan released last month, managers at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which hugs 276 miles of coast from Marin to Cambria, proposed barring personal watercraft from Maverick's, a spot near Half Moon Bay whose winter 40- to 60-foot waves draw surfers from around the world.

Officials considering the plan to protect gray whales, sea lions and other marine life could opt for a permit process for tow-in surfers at Maverick's. The proposal could also nix tow-in surfing at Ghost Tree near Pebble Beach.A series of public hearings in several Northern California coastal towns set to begin next week has inflamed the intra-surfing spat over tow-in surfing, a relatively new innovation in a sport whose origins stretch back centuries.

Among the Monterey Bay sanctuary's chief allies are surfing purists who grumble that surfers pulled into the waves by jet-propelled watercraft hog their swells and threaten harbor seals that rest near Maverick's, named after a local surfer's dog."

Jet Skis are a form of strip-mining a surf spot," said Mark Renneker, a family practice doctor at UC San Francisco who has surfed Maverick's for more than a decade. "They behave like the Wild Ones, whipping and spraying fumes.... I just find them so appalling and so disruptive to the near-shore environment and the peacefulness that I was out there for."

Beginning in the 1990s, surfers using personal watercraft to reach steep swells revolutionized big-wave riding. Harrowing waves once deemed uncatchable and unridable were suddenly accessible — and the watercraft also allowed for quick rescues after wipeouts."

It's virtually impossible to save a surfer in waves of that size without a Jet Ski," said Bill Sharp, event director for Billabong's big-wave contests. The 2002 award went to a Brazilian surfer for riding a 68-footer at Maverick's.

The safety argument has been brushed aside in the battle for Maverick's, said Don Curry, a spokesman for the Assn. of Professional Towsurfers, because personal watercraft are saddled with "a bad reputation, like a motorcycle in the water. So they're being dealt with in the form of 'Let's just ban them so that there are no conflicts.' "
Check out the whole thing. The suggestion for tow permits sounds like a reasonable solution to the controversy, although I fully understand the concerns of the surfer purists. I was a big wave bodyboarder in high school. I used to go out with some of my buddies in 8-10 foot surf at "The Point" at Newport Beach, a spot known for a quick break and super steep faces, unlike Huntington Beach's more rolling waves.

I first heard about Maverick's when I was in graduate school in Santa Barbara. I picked up a copy of Surfer Magazine, which had the story of the Maverick phenomenon, and especially the drowning of surf pro Mark Foo. (
Foo's last ride is discussed in this article by Jon Krakauer in Outside Magazine).

Be sure to check out Dana Brown's recent surf film classic, "
Step Into Liquid," which covers the Maverick's phenomenon. I first saw it during its theatrical release, at The Lido Theater in Newport Beach, a cool 1950s-era movie house now showing both mainstream and cinema art productions.

Lebanon May Signal Defeat for U.S. Mideast Goals

This week's crisis in Lebanon has raised the spector of a total collapse of U.S. goals of democracy promotion in the Middle East. As this Los Angeles Times story notes:

The assassination Tuesday of Pierre Gemayel, a Cabinet minister and scion of one of the countries' leading Maronite Catholic families, has renewed fears of civil war and raised suspicion that Syria is again asserting itself in the affairs of its restive neighbor.

"You're now seeing the last strand" of failed U.S. policy endeavors, said Nathan Brown, a specialist in Arab politics at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former United Nations consultant. Lebanon's "Cedar Revolution," which gave power to anti-Syria forces, was heralded along with the 2005 elections in Iraq, Egypt and the Palestinian territories as part of a new movement that was going to be "as important as the fall of the Berlin Wall," Brown said.

But the changes that followed have dashed U.S. hopes in country after country, he said.

Palestinian voters have since granted power to the militant group Hamas, which the administration has yet to recognize. Egypt's reforms have stalled. And in Iraq, the government has proved unable to run the country amid increasing violence and rising U.S. casualties. Many Iraqis say they would prefer a return to authoritarian rule.

President Bush on Wednesday condemned Syria and Iran as fomenting instability in Lebanon, and officials promised that the United States would do what it could to support its allies in the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

But U.S. officials acknowledged that they had limited influence to deal with the crisis, which could damage U.S. interests in multiple ways. Analysts see the Lebanon situation as another sign that American clout is shrinking in the Middle East.

A collapse of the Lebanese government would mark a further expansion in the influence of Hezbollah — and of Syria and Iran, which back the Shiite Muslim militant group — many of the analysts said.

It would be a setback to the U.S. goal of uniting the country around a stronger central government, and to hopes that an expanded Lebanese army could protect Israel from Hezbollah attacks.It also would end the Bush administration's goal of making Lebanon a democratic model for the region.
Caroline Glick in yesterday's Jerusalem Post offered a penetrating analysis of the implications of the Gemayal assassination for the long-term security of the region. Glick suggests that Syria and Iran are seeking to replace the current Lebanese anti-Syrian government with a pro-Syrian, pro-Iranian coalition led by Hezbollah. She notes that Washington's new Democratic congressional majority has embraced the Baker plan for an American withdrawal from Iraq. These developments, to Glick, are parts of a larger constellation of forces working to defeat U.S. interests and destroy America's democratic allies in the region:

Baker fervently believes that US foreign policy should revolve around being bad to its friends and good to its enemies. Consequently he thinks that the US can avoid the humiliation of the defeat he proposes by buying off Syria and Iran, the forces behind most of the violence, instability, subversion and terror in Iraq. If the US accepts their conditions, they will temporarily cease their attacks to enable a US retreat that will look only mildly humiliating to the television viewers back home....

BAKER'S CURRENT dealings with Iran and Syria parallel closely Israel's talks with the Palestinians in the lead-up to its withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria last year. As Baker does today, at the time Israel appealed to the Palestinians to restrain themselves temporarily to enable an orderly Israeli surrender of the territories.

Last year the Palestinians demanded that Israel hand over the international border between Gaza and the Sinai in exchange for their cooperation. By forcing the IDF to withdraw from the Philadelphi Corridor, the Palestinian Authority transformed a tactical and symbolic victory for jihad into a strategic victory for jihad. Without Israel controlling the border, Gaza was rapidly transformed into a major base for global terrorists.

Today, the Iranian and Syrian price tags for cooperation are similarly high. The Iranians demand international acceptance of their nuclear weapons program replete with European abandonment of Israel. Their demands have apparently been met....

Syria set its price for cooperating with the US in Iraq when it murdered Gemayel. That is, in addition to pressuring Israel to give up the Golan Heights, the US will be expected to accept the reassertion of Syrian/Iranian control over all of Lebanon through a new government controlled by Hizbullah and its allies which will replace the Saniora government. The fall of the Saniora government will also spell the demise of the Hariri murder tribunal. Iran and Syria also demand that the US abandon its policy of regime change in both countries.

Another similarity between Israel's retreat from Gaza and northern Samaria last year, its withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, and the proposed US retreat from Iraq today are the obvious consequences of such a retreat for the US, the region and the world. Far from bringing peace and stability, as the champions of the withdrawal policy mindlessly claim, a retreat will cause more war, more instability and more suffering in Iraq, in the region and throughout the world.

In the wake of a US (and Coalition) withdrawal from Iraq, the country would become an Iranian-Syrian-controlled base for global jihad. Battle-tested, heavily armed terrorists, cocky after their victory over the Great Satan, would use Iraq as a stepping-off point for attacks throughout the region and world. Israel and Jordan, as allies of the defeated great power, would be first on the list of targets.

Israel will find itself beset by an emboldened, nuclear weapons building Iran, an exhilarated Assad and by Iranian proxies from Gaza to Ramallah to Beirut....

The most pressing question today then is whether Bush will give in to Baker and the Democrats and agree to capitulate to Iran and Syria in Iraq, Lebanon and indeed throughout the world. Unfortunately, things look bleak given that Bush relies most heavily on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice has been blocking US action against Syria and Iran for the past two years. She was the primary architect of UN Resolution 1701 this summer, has been pushing for dangerous Israeli concessions to the Palestinians and is known for her good relations with Baker.

Although a great blow to Bush's vision of democracy in the Middle East, Gemayel's murder can still serve as an opportunity for the reinvigoration of that vision. If Bush sees this murder as the warning sign it is of what awaits Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq and indeed the entire world if the US removes its forces from Iraq or is perceived as moving in that direction; if he finally recognizes that Iraq is not a separate war, but a great battle in a larger struggle, then Bush will be able to formulate a new strategy for victory.

Such a strategy, founded on an understanding of the regional and global nature of the war, will change the emphasis of US operations in Iraq in a manner than weakens, rather than strengthens Iran and Syria.

Such a strategy is the only way to ensure the continued functioning of the Saniora government and indeed the survival of Lebanon as an independent nation.

Most importantly, such a strategy will be the only way to ensure that a policy will be formed and adopted by the US and Israel that will prevent Israel's annihilation at the hands of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

All is not lost, however. Foreign Affairs has a symposium on the Middle East in their current issue, and two articles -- one by Ze'ev Schiff and the other by Volker Perthes -- suggest that the Syrian government has less influence over Hezbollah than is often suggested, that the government of Bashir al-Assad has an ultimate interest in regime survival (especially if sectarian violence in Iraq spills over to threaten the Damascus government), and that Israel may have a diplomatic opportunity to negotiate an agreement with Syria that establishes Damascus as a regional buffer between Israel and Iran.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Future of American Global Preponderance

In a June entry, I asked "Is America's Global Leaderhip Position Threatened?" Citing an article by Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek on America's relative economic decline, I argued that "it will likely be decades before another global challenger supplants America's hegemonic international leadership position." As noted by Zakaria,

The United States' share of the global economy has been remarkably steady through wars, depressions and a slew of rising powers. It was 32 percent in 1913, 26 percent in 1960, 22 percent in 1980 and 27 percent in 2000. With the brief exception of the late 1940s and 1950s—when the rest of the industrialized world had been destroyed—the United States has taken up about a quarter of world output for about 120 years and is likely to stay in roughly the same position for the next few decades if it can adapt to the current challenges it faces as well as it adapted to those in the past.
I spent a good amount of time studying historical changes in the world balance of power in graduate school. One of the top scholars working in the global balancing literature is Christopher Layne. Layne's got a new piece in Fall 2006 edition International Security. Entitled, "The Unipolar Illusion Revisited: The Coming End of the United States' Unipolar Moment," Layne argues that America's preponderant world postition is expected to erode into a system of multipolar power by 2030.

Here's the key summary of Layne's argument:

U.S. hegemony cannot endure indefinitely. Even the strongest proponents of primacy harbor an unspoken fear that U.S. hegemony will provoke the very kind of geopolitical backlash that they say cannot happen (or at least cannot happen for a very long time). In fact, although a new geopolitical balance has yet to emerge, there is considerable evidence that other states have been engaging in balancing against the United States—including hard balancing. U.S. concerns about China’s great power emergence reflect Washington’s fears about the military, as well as economic, implications of China’s rise. Other evidence suggests—at least by some measures—that the international system is closer to a multipolar distribution of power than primacists realize. In its survey of likely international developments through 2020, the National Intelligence Council’s report Mapping the Global Future notes: “The likely emergence of China and India as new major global players—similar to the rise of Germany in the 19th century and the United States in the early 20th century—will transform the geopolitical landscape, with impacts potentially as dramatic as those of the previous two centuries. In the same way that commentators refer to the 1900s as the American Century, the early 21st century may be seen as the time when some in the developing world led by China and India came into their own.” In a similar vein, a recent study by the Strategic Assessment Group projects that by 2020 both China (which Mapping the Global Future argues will then be “by any measure a first-rate military power”) and the European Union could each have nearly as much power as the United States. Projecting current trends several decades into the future has its pitfalls (not least because of the difficulty of converting economic power into effective military power. But if this ongoing shift in the distribution of relative power continues, new poles of power in the international system are likely to emerge in the next decade or two.
I enjoy Layne's scholarship, especially his deep engagement with the literature on diplomatic history. I don't find this article particularly compelling, however. He's got a good theoretical critique of the main arguments in favor of enduring, benign American unipolarity. He notes that this is a scholarship of great power exceptionalism, and it holds that the U.S. -- because of democratic structure and values -- will not likely meet the fate of other declining great powers in history. Unfortunately, Layne doesn't deeply address technological trends contributing to either the maintenance or erosion of American global economic and political leadership.

Layne notes that he was wrong about America's decline before (in his 1993 article, "The Unipolar Illusion"), and I think he'll be wrong again. In light of Zakaria's analysis above, I remain optimistic that the U.S. can sustain its global leadership position far into the future. We have been down the road of predicted relative decline before. Many analysts saw Japan overcoming the United States during the 1980s. Today, others see China and India outstripping America in the coming decades. But as Zakaria notes,
The genius of America's success is that the United States is a rich country with many of the attributes of a scrappy, developing society. It is open, flexible and adventurous, often unmindful of history and tradition. Its people work hard, putting in longer hours than those in other rich countries. Much of this has do to with the history and culture of the society. A huge amount of it has to do with immigration, which keeps America constantly renewed by streams of hardworking people, desperate to succeed. Science laboratories in America are more than half filled with foreign students and immigrants. Without them, America's leadership position in the sciences would collapse. That is why America, alone among industrial nations, has been able to do the nearly impossible: renew its power and stay at the top of the game for a century now. We can expand our science programs—and we should—but we will never be able to compete with India and China in the production of engineers. No matter what we do, they will have more, and cheaper, labor. What we can do is take the best features of the America system—openness, innovation, immigration and flexibility—and enhance them, so that they can respond to new challenges by creating new industries, new technologies and new jobs, as we have in the past.
That to me sounds like an accurate assessment of America's future prospects.

Black Achievement Gap in Learning Slow to Close

The New York Times reports that the black educational achievement gap shows troubling persistence despite reform efforts under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the signature education law of the Bush administration:

When President Bush signed his sweeping education law a year into his presidency, it set 2014 as the deadline by which schools were to close the test-score gaps between minority and white students that have persisted since standardized testing began.

Now, as Congress prepares to consider reauthorizing the law next year, researchers and a half-dozen recent studies, including three issued last week, are reporting little progress toward that goal. Slight gains have been seen for some grade levels.

Despite concerted efforts by educators, the test-score gaps are so large that, on average, African-American and Hispanic students in high school can read and do arithmetic at only the average level of whites in junior high school.

“The gaps between African-Americans and whites are showing very few signs of closing,” Michael T. Nettles, a senior vice president at the Educational Testing Service, said in a paper he presented recently at Columbia University. One ethnic minority, Asians, generally fares as well as or better than whites.

The reports and their authors, in interviews, portrayed an educational landscape in which test-score gaps between black or Hispanic students and whites appear in kindergarten and worsen through 12 years of public education.

Some researchers based their conclusions on federal test results, while others have cited state exams, the SATs and other widely administered standardized assessments. Still, the studies have all concurred: The achievement gaps remain, perplexing and persistent.

The findings pose a challenge not only for Mr. Bush but also for the Democratic lawmakers who joined him in negotiating the original law, known as No Child Left Behind, and who will control education policy in Congress next year.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Representative George Miller of California, who are expected to be the chairmen of the Senate and House education committees, will promote giving more resources to schools and researching strategies to improve minority performance, according to aides.

“Closing the achievement gap is at the heart of No Child Left Behind and must continue to be our focus in renewing the act next year,” Mr. Kennedy said in a statement.

Experts have suggested many possible changes, including improving the law’s mechanisms for ensuring that teachers in poor schools are experienced and knowledgeable, and extending early-childhood education to more students.

Henry L. Johnson, an assistant secretary of education, said: “I don’t dispute that looking at some comparisons we see that these gaps are not closing — or not as fast as they ought to. But it’s also accurate to say that when taken as a whole, student performance is improving. The presumption that we won’t get to 100 percent proficiency from here presumes that everything is static. To reach the 100 percent by 2014, we’ll all have to work faster and smarter.”
The article mentions a grade school in Lakewood, California, nearby my college, as exemplary, implementing the kind of reforms that work to improve minority achievement:

One of the exceptions, the unit said, is Hoover Middle School in Lakewood, Calif., a community in Los Angeles County where the aircraft manufacturing industry has been hit by job losses. The school has raised Hispanic scores so much that in the spring of 2005 Hispanic students outperformed whites, said the principal, Michael L. Troyer. He said the progress resulted from focused instruction, frequent diagnostic testing and several tutoring programs.

“Some of it’s after school, teachers do it at lunch, and we have people who tutor in the morning before school, too,” Mr. Troyer said.
Unlike some conservitives who opposed NCLB as a disastrous expansion of federal authority in the traditional educational territory of the states, I see the law representing a national commitment to equality of opportunity. The new Democratic Congress needs to take seriously the promise of NCLB as the major civil rights achievement of the Bush administration. Echoing these points, Chester Finn and Frederick Hess laid out a ten-point bipartisan reform plan in The Public Interest in Fall 2004. The stakes are too high to give up on the promise of narrowing the racial gap in learning.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thankful For Living in the United States of America

Betsy Newmark over at Betsy's Page sent out some Thanksgiving wishes today, reminding us all of that for which we are thankful:

I hope all of you are celebrating the holiday with the people who mean most to you in the world. We truly have much to be thankful for. As Americans, we are living in the one of the most prosperous countries of the world at the most prosperous time in history. We must be thankful for the men and women who have left their homes to fight in our armed forces. We must be thankful for the researchers who have developed medicines and treatments that keep us alive so much longer than any other time in history. And we must be thankful for freedoms that we ordinary citizens share that are truly rare in the world's history. No matter what your gripe is, you can come to appreciate your luck at living here and now by just dipping into any history book about any other time. Then go enjoy your clean water, indoor plumbing, access to education and medicine and be thankful. There are many around the world today who don't enjoy those assets who would trade in their life situations in a flash to be in our places. So, let us indeed be thankful.
I am deepful thankful for my freedom, opportunity, and security, and I thank Newmark for her concise reminder of what is good about our country and traditions.

If you'd like to dip into a history book in appreciation of our freedom, let me suggest Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen's, A Patriot's History of the United States: From Columbus's Great Discovery to the War on Terror (2004). For Schweikart's pro-American interview with the National Review,
click here.

American Individualism and the Tradition of Giving

According to Thomas Patterson, a nation's political culture reflects "the characteristic and deep-seated beliefs of the people." The American political culture is unique in its emphasis on individualism. "Individualism is a commitment to personal initiative, self-sufficiency, and material accumulation. This principle upholds the superiority of a private-enterprise economic system and indicates the idea of the individual as the foundation of society."

I recalled our culture of individualism in reading Mortimer Zuckerman's editorial this week at U.S. News and World Report. Zuckerman notes that American individualism and the sense of community support the nation's tradition of giving:

We are blessed by our history. The early immigrants came mostly from countries with a strong, central government, a dominant church, and an energetic aristocracy. Central government assumed the responsibility for the public good, with its costs underwritten by taxes. America, by contrast, was a young, frontier society with no tradition of strong, central government, with no state religion and no established aristocracy. When American pioneers wanted to raise a church or a school or a hospital in their new communities, they had to build it themselves. One farmer couldn't put up a barn by himself, so individual farmers called on friends and neighbors, and when they needed help, the favor was promptly returned. The party the farmer threw for his neighbors after the barn was completed lives on in the wonderfully American phrase "raising the roof."

Other rich countries have a far higher proportion of hospitals, libraries, and universities-all funded by the state. This reduces the sense of community. The commonplace cry is "Why don't they do something about it?" instead of "Why don't we do something about it?" Many Europeans believe that simply paying taxes absolves them of any further responsibility to their fellow citizens. It is an attitude that is beginning to change somewhat, given the American successes-the "thousand points of light" that the elder President Bush commended. But European governments vary from the stingy to the downright mean in their attitude to philanthropy. Charities in Britain, for instance, have recently been told by the Charity Commission that their endowments could be seized: You can be sure the British Scrooge won't be funding the kinds of imaginative ventures the private donors did.

Of course, government has hardly been rendered redundant in the United States, but its role in relation to philanthropy is a positive one. Our government, irrespective of political control, encourages giving, with indirect subsidies and tax exemptions for cultural institutions and tax relief for individuals. This jibes with the American instinct for individualism. We don't want government to make all moral or aesthetic judgments. But studies have shown that the tax relief Americans enjoy from giving doesn't explain the impulse to give. Happily, that is something deeply ingrained in our national psyche.

It has to be admitted that this system works well for middle- and upper-income Americans who can take advantage of tax deductions and arts subsidies but functions less well for lower-income groups. That's why our universities, hospitals, and art museums are among the world's finest, while healthcare and preschool education for poor Americans are below European standards. Here, still, is a challenge to the American spirit we celebrate as we give thanks for our blessings.
Zuckerman notes that there's an unwritten contract at the heart of American capitalism that those who gain fabulous wealth share it with those less fortunate. We see this gift of giving in everything from medical research to arts and culture and scholarships to disadvantaged minorities. Zuckerman mentions the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as an extraordinary example of this tradition. Also, check out Business Week's list of top corporate donors in 2006.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Social Divide: President Bush May Compromise With Democrats on Social Security

Today's Wall Street Journal reports that President Bush may buckle in to Democrats on Social Security reform in 2007, foregoing the conservative effort to establish private retirement accounts and revolutionize the New Deal-era social welfare program. The administration made a big push for reform in 2005, with Bush criss-crossing the country to make the case a for a major overhaul. Here's the background:

President Bush tried and failed to fix Social Security's long-term finances with his own party in control of Congress. His determination to keep trying, even as Democrats take over, is fueling speculation that he is ready to meet their price for coming to the bargaining table: dropping his goal of letting workers create private retirement accounts.

While Democrats don't take over the House and Senate until January, already some in both parties are reading tea leaves for signs of administration flexibility, including in recent remarks by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten.

Were the president to drop private accounts and call their bluff, Democrats would be challenged to make good on their professed willingness to help ensure Social Security's solvency.

Both sides acknowledge that a combination of reduced future benefits and higher revenues will be necessary eventually. As more Americans reach retirement age, Social Security will soon bring in fewer revenues from workers' payroll taxes than it sends out in benefit checks to retirees, workers' survivors and the disabled.

For Mr. Bush, private accounts are a way of reducing Social Security's future obligations, and central to his concept of an "ownership society" in which Americans rely less on government.

Democrats, along with the seniors group AARP, oppose personal accounts because they would initially require heavy government borrowing, and could leave future retirees at risk of market downturns.

Except for the Iraq war, perhaps no other issue so tests whether Democrats' capture of Capitol Hill in this month's midterm elections will cause Mr. Bush to alter what has been a largely partisan and uncompromising governing style. At the same time, any compromises cut with the Democratic majority are sure to cost Mr. Bush the support of many Republicans, especially in the House.

Publicly, the White House isn't budging. "Private accounts are part of our proposal and we're interested in having others put things on the table, not taking things off," says administration spokesman Dana Perino.

For those who nonetheless see a Bush concession ahead, perhaps the biggest reason is this: If Mr. Bush doesn't drop private accounts, it is virtually certain that nothing will happen on Social Security, the issue he has called the top domestic priority of his second term. Democrats say Mr. Bush also must finally spell out exactly what future benefit reductions or revenue increases he could support.

An administration compromise on Social Security reform would represent a near-total collapse of GOP ideological aspirations to a social welfare policy of market opportunity. Bush called this vision the "ownership society," a new version of the U.S. social contract in which Americans would undertake more risk on income security, in exchange for the dramatic benefits of home ownership, control over retirement savings, employment training, and health care. Privatization of Social Security -- with the diversion of personal tax contributions to individual accounts -- would eventually replace the old fashioned pay-as-you-go Social Security transfer program currently in place. Social Security is expected to run out of funding sometime in the next few decades when expenditures overtake tax contributions. This is what people mean when they say Social Security will eventually go bankrupt.

Even before the Democrats came to power, privatization of Social Security was viewed skeptically by a public wary of market fluctuations, particularly in light of the 2001 stock market crash. Business Week ran a story a while back called "Safety Net Nation," which indicated that most Americans wanted some basic, government-backed safety net against downward mobility, particulary in old-age.