Ron Paul’s Delegate System Hacking

Doug Mataconis says it’s not helping his cause:

[I]t’s unclear what Paul’s supporters think they are going to accomplish here. Regardless of how many “wins” they rack up they are not going to be able to stop Mitt Romney from winning the nomination on the first ballot, although I keep running into Paul supporters online who seem to actually believe that Ron Paul can somehow come out of Tampa with the nomination. That delusion aside, though, it’s hard to see what they think they’re accomplishing. By and large, it appears pretty clear that they are antagonizing mainline Republicans every time they pull this stunt. That’s hardly the kind of thing that will win friends and influence people, nor is it the kind of thing you should do if you want to become a voice of influence in the Republican Party as Paul supporters claim that they do.

via Ron Paul’s Delegate “Wins” Won’t Amount To Anything.

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Grover Cleveland on the Communisms of Capital and Toil

From his pretty fascinating 1888 State of the Union address:

Communism is a hateful thing and a menace to peace and organized government; but the communism of combined wealth and capital, the outgrowth of overweening cupidity and selfishness, which insidiously undermines the justice and integrity of free institutions, is not less dangerous than the communism of oppressed poverty and toil, which, exasperated by injustice and discontent, attacks with wild disorder the citadel of rule.

via Sheldon Richman on “The Myth of America’s Laissez-Faire Past.”

Poisoned Well of Blood Guilt by Association: A Very Special Full Disclosure

A frenzied Mark Ames at AlterNet attempts to discredit Megan McArdle’s writings on health-care reform by pointing out that her father has worked for the government and that she writes for the Atlantic! !!! It’s truly hysterical. Ames has done an immense service to critical thinking instructors the world over by piling so many argumentative fallacies into one neat package.

Well, maybe that’s the wrong attitude. After all, how can we really evaluate Ames’ argument before we know more about his parents and the circumstances of his childhood? And who am I to cast stones? I must admit that I too have parents. I suppose I ought to take this opportunity to expose my own hypocrisy before muckraking geniuses like Ames expose them first. So here we go. This isn’t going to be easy. Ahem!

So, my father had a long career as a police officer. There. It’s out. During my childhood, the taxpayers of Independence, Missouri and Marshalltown, Iowa put bread on our table and clothes on my back. Indeed, in Marshalltown (and, after I left home, in Council Bluffs, Iowa) my father was the chief of police. Nevertheless, I consider illegitimate many of the laws police officers are charged to enforce, and thus I believe police officers to be guilty of serious moral transgressions that differ from criminal assault, kidnapping, theft, etc., only in the sanction of the state and approval of the bulk of society. Yet, given the fact that policing paid for my piano lessons, any opinions I might have about police abuses of power, or about the state generally, pretty clearly refute themselves.

Perhaps worse, I learned to read and write in public schools, yet I use those very skills at a libertarian think tank (!!!) where I sometimes argue against the status quo system of public education. It is truly a wonder that I am able to sleep at night.

Actually… Doesn’t Megan suffer from insomnia? She does. So what more is there to say? Just this: greater government control over the health care system poses no threat to medical innovation or individual liberty. Anyone who would tell you otherwise probably has parents.

Why Can't My Team Do Whatever It Wants!?

Ezra Klein is annoyed with the Obama adminstration’s pusillanimous pussyfooting. Even that foul-mouthed hard-guy Rahm Emanuel is a squish these days. Why are the Democratic powers-that-be willing even to entertain the lame “trigger” public plan, which kicks in only if private plans fail to hit certain benchmarks for performance. Klein:

What Emanuel is saying here, however, is that in 2009, when Democrats control the White House, the House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate — and have larger margins than Republicans ever did in the latter two — that they are interested in settling on the same policy compromise [behind Medicare Part D, a product of a Republican president and Congress]: a weak public plan that would be activated if certain conditions aren’t met by private industry. That’s a bit weird. Weren’t elections supposed to have consequences?

Policy follows public opinion, more or less. And the public hasn’t really changed much since 2003. This is something partisans have to learn and relearn again and again. If a policy was unpopular before a change in the party controlling government, it will probably remain unpopular after. And politicians like getting reelected. It’s pretty simply, really.

Bush couldn’t reform Social Security because his plan was unpopular. Obama won’t be able to deliver a health-care bill ideological Democrats want, because what they want is unpopular and legislators know it. So Congressional Democrats want something they can cast as “victory” while doing nothing that could hurt their noble struggle for ongoing political self-preservation. Right now, strongly ideological media liberals like Klein have to decide whether they’re going to (a) act as enforcers, sending the signal to the powers-that-be that they will vocally and publicly count a “trigger” plan as a pathetic failure, or (b) sigh and prepare to declare whatever legislation passes a profound victory for ordinary Americans that shows just how great Democrats are.

But I imagine this one’s a tough call. For lots of ideological Democrats, the point of preserving political capital is to secure real universal health care. So I expect to see a fair amount of (potentially counterproductive) enforcer rhetoric.

Further Meditations on the Objective Meaning of Green Twitter Avatars

Some people were really ticked off by my Twitter avatar post, and I can see why. I guess it’s bad enough to accuse people of empty moral posturing. It’s another thing to accuse people of empty moral posturing that helps the people who worked like crazy to start an unjustified war in Iraq. So let me say that I completely understand the impulse to express solidarity with Iranians who seek freedom. I feel it very strongly myself, but I also don’t trust it. Why not?

Because I realize that I have no idea what I’m talking about. I don’t understand Iranian politics very deeply. I will now proceed to make some mistakes that prove this. For example, I did not know until this episode that Mousavi was Prime Minister of Iran for many years under Khomeni, which pretty much guarantees he’s no angel. I did not understand anything about the internal divisions within the Council of Guardians and the Assembly of Experts. Indeed, I still don’t completely grasp how these various bodies are related to each other. What I gather is that that Khameni and Ahmadinejad are aligned against former Prime Minister Mousavi and former President Rafsanjani (who is now the head of the Assemby of Experts, the body that chooses the Supreme Leader. Thank you Wikipedia). I don’t really grasp whether Mousavi and Rafsanjani are in it together, or are in a “the enemy of my enemy is a friend of mine” sort of thing, or what. As far as I can tell, the ruling axis got worried A’jad might lose the election, botched the vote-rigging, but validated the result anyway. I don’t know who would have won had the vote been counted (I think this remains quite unclear), but in any case, it seems clear enough that Ahmadinejad is staying in power despite a pretty transparent flouting of the rules of an already deeply anti-democratic constitution. This provided a great opportunity for the anti-Khameni/Ahmadinejad faction to encourage a popular uprising, which I am sure is fueled by real discontent with the current regime. And much of this discontent I am sure is surely rooted in an authentic desire for a more liberal and democratic Iran.

Is that what we get if the Mousavi-Rafsanjani axis comes to power? A more liberal and democratic Iran? I honestly don’t know, and I don’t think many people do. I do know that these guys are deeply embedded in the larger status quo power structure, have had power before, and their records don’t look so good. They may well represent improvement, but I don’t honestly know that. As far as I know, the outpouring of desire for change that we see so clearly on YouTube is being exploited by one faction of the Iranian ruling class to depose another. I’d like to see the whole theocratic structure of Iran fall. I’d like to see the whole country radically liberalize, but I think that’s unlikely, largely because I doubt very much that that’s what most Iranians want. I want Iran to be free, and I want Iranians to want to be free. And I’m quite willing to cheer for freedom. Go freedom! But given my ignorance of exactly what and who I’d really be cheering on should I alter my Twitter avatar to reflect the campaign color of the former PM of the Islamic Republic of Iran, I think the intellectually and morally responsible course of action is to watch with colorless hope.

I am, however, quite confident that the powerful faction within American politics that argued for and got a war in Iraq has been arguing for a much harder line against Iran in order to set up a familiar dynamic of sanctions, UN Security Council demands, and so on. Just read the Weekly Standard blog.  Dick Cheney’s authorized biographer Stephen Hayes is certainly not trying to avoid a future conflict when he writes:

The reason to talk about consequences [i.e., what the U.S. will do if this or that happens in Iran] is, at least in part, because it offers an opportunity to influence how this is going to play out. It may be the case that there are few potential consequences from the international community that could affect regime behavior. But if that’s the case — and given the regime’s support for terror, its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, its theft of the election, and its violent suppression of the protests — doesn’t that make it more urgent for the international community to at least try to affect behavior and at least raise the possibility that there will come a time when the world refuses to recognize the current regime?

People are accusing other people of naïveté all over the place, so I’ll try not to. But let me say I think it is rather unwise to underestimate the strategic savvy of the opinonmakers at the Weekly Standard and Fox News. It is not “paranoid” to think they are in fact talented at shaping American popular opinion and then bringing it to bear to achieve their political aims. The correct description of the events in Iran continues to elude me. Perhaps I have been ideologically blinded to the obvious. All I can say is that given what little I know, it is not obvious. But it is quite clear to me that the story of a people yearning for freedom and rising up to demand their rights as citizens who are then crushed by an evil authoritarian regime that will do anything to achieve its evil ends… it’s clear to me that this story is useful to a certain faction in the ongoing debates about U.S. policy toward Iran. It may be that this story is the true story. But I don’t honestly know that it is, so I think it is prudent not to assume it is–especially given the fact that this narrative does play into the hands of the most dangerous people in American public life.

Things really are lining up rather nicely for the neocons, and I don’t think it’s crazy to be wary of helping them, especially when doing nothing but explaining why you’re doing nothing really can’t hurt. If Mousavi turns out to be the Iranian Gorbechev, I’ll be delighted. But then we’ll hear how the reverse domino theory has been vindicated, how George W. Bush is a world-historical champion of freedom, and how we should not in the future be so hesitant to knock down dominoes. If the protests are crushed, it proves how rotten and dangerous the regime is, making it all the more urgent that the “international community” intervene to make sure the evil mullahs don’t nuke Israel. If it turns out the new boss is same as the old boss, we’ll hear a lot about Iran’s instability, and the danger of nukes in that kind a tinderbox. Etc. So, yes. I am on my guard.

Anyway, I really did disparage people’s motives in my first post, and I don’t really think all Livestrong bracelets, pink ribbons, yellow ribbons, purple ribbons, blue ribbons, and green Twitter avatars are cheap, empty signaling. If you’re really sincerely just excited to do some small thing to stand with people risking life and limb for their freedom, I apologize. But I do ask you to reflect on what you do and don’t really know, and to consider what narrative benefits whom.

Meanwhile, IOZ interviews The Revolution.

Signaling and Solidarity

So folks on Twitter have been turning their avatars (little profile photos) green to show solidarity with the protesters in Iran. There are websites to help you do this. But why do this? How does it help? I want the Iranian people to live in freedom, just as I want all people to live in freedom. But the point of the gesture eludes me, unless the point of the gesture is to be seen making the gesture by others who will credit you for it. Like so many political gestures, it is vanity dressed up as elevated moral consciousness. It doesn’t help. Is it harmless? Unlike the stupidly grandstanding House resolution, the ruling regime probably won’t be pointing to verdant Twitter avatars as evidence that the uprising is an American plot. So I wouldn’t worry about that. Here’s what I do worry about. When people feel pressure to signal, and it’s free, they’ll signal. But sending the signal creates a small emotional investment in the overt message of the signal — solidarity with opponents of the ruling Iranian regime. As every salesman knows, getting someone to make a big, costly commitment is best achieved by getting them to first make a tiny, costless commitment. The tiny, costless commitment of turning Twitter avatars green is thin edge of the persuasive edge for the neocons who would like to sell the public a war in Iran. Since I would rather not be Bill Kristol’s useful idiot, I will conspicuously leave my avatar as is, and continue hoping for the best.