Let’s NOT Rush to War

Charles KrauthammerI caught just a couple of minutes of Fox News and Charles Krauthammer was talking about how legalistic the White House was being about the suspected chemical weapons use by Syria. So far as I could tell, his argument was that this is a war zone so we don’t have time to be careful. That makes sense for people who are in the war: when the mustard gas comes, you put on the mask, you don’t do tests to see if it is really sulfur mustard rather than just the result of a Wienermobile crash. But, as usual with conservatives in general and Krauthammer in particular, he’s making a false analogy. The question is whether we should go to war based upon potentially bad information.

This is the time when someone says, “Just like in Iraq!” But that isn’t really true. In fact, this is an issue that makes me really mad. It was clear that there was nothing to the whole rush to war in Iraq. And I get angry especially at Democratic politicians like Hillary Clinton and John Kerry who claim they were misled. Please! True, the Republicans got the ball rolling, but by the end, both sides voted for it because they didn’t want to miss out on the glory of being for another bloody good war like Persian Gulf.

Today in Syria, we really don’t know what’s going on. And let’s face it, wars where one or both sides are behaving badly are not rare. What is Krauthammer worried about? That this great opportunity is going to pass us by? That would be like George Clooney feeling like he has to fuck a supermodel before she changes her mind. There are plenty of supermodels for George and plenty of wars for us.

But I understand why Fox News and all the other conservatives want us to jump into a new war. In almost all cases, the more we know, the less we will want to go to war. So it’s important for us to go to war quickly, knowing as little as possible. One thing is for sure: by the time the war is over, nearly everyone, including most of the conservatives, will think it was a mistake. But just like that last batch of buffalo wings that gave you heartburn so bad you wanted to die, they claim this war will be different. But it won’t be different. And we at least need to understand why we are going to war. I would hate to see us do it because the Syrian resistance finessed us into it.


Charles Krauthammer is generally more nuansed than his conservative allies. But in the lead up to the Iraq War, he wrote the following in Jewish World Review, “Hawks favor war on the grounds that Saddam Hussein is reckless, tyrannical and instinctively aggressive, and that if he comes into possession of nuclear weapons in addition to the weapons of mass destruction he already has [No amount of being wrong ever hurts a pundit!], he is likely to use them or share them with terrorists. The threat of mass death on a scale never before seen residing in the hands of an unstable madman is intolerable—and must be preempted.” He goes on to say that he sides with them. This is a supposedly serious foreign policy thinker! The argument that any despot would take his hard-won weapons and share them with terrorists is ridiculous. This is the kind of argument you make when you just really want to go to war. And apparently, Krauthammer always really wants to go to war. (Well, not him personally. He was sadly paralyzed in an auto accident as a young man. But apparently, no argument is too specious to justify having the same thing happen to more young men in every war opportunity Krauthammer notices.)

Low Probability Greatness

Carl Friedrich GaussGertrude Stein lover (There’s lots of there there!) Alice B. Toklas was born on this day in 1877. Actor Eve Arden was born in 1908. Grandpa Munster actor, Al Lewis was born in 1923. Johnny Horton was born in 1925. And actor Jill Clayburgh was born in 1944.

Cloris Leachman is 87 today. Willie Nelson is 80. Ringworld author Larry Niven is 75. Rocky’s brother-in-law, Burt Young is 73. And Kirsten Dunst is 31.

By many lengths, the day belongs to arguably the greatest mathematician of all time, Carl Friedrich Gauss, or as we know him, Gauss. He was born in 1777. According to historian Eric Temple Bell (who is not above criticism, but still), if Gauss had published all of his discoveries when he made them, it would have advanced mathematics 50 years ahead of where it is. It is hard to overstate his importance. There is basically no field of math in which you won’t come upon his work.

Happy birthday Gauss!

Protectionism and the Death of Democracy

1%Yesterday, Paul Krugman posted an article on his blog about why the economic crisis didn’t result in more calls for protectionism: tariffs and the like. He proposes a few ideas but decides it is all about our trade agreements. I think he’s wrong.

It may well be the fact that there are institutional barriers against protectionist policies. For example, if we start putting import taxes on all products, the World Trade Organization will go after us. But that isn’t the same as why no one even talked about trying to protect our local industries. For that, I think there are two issues: helplessness and elite media control.

In my discussions with people from all over geographically and economically, what I get is a strong resignation that nothing can be done. Everyone is just hoping that they can hold on until things improve. But even there, they think they have no control over improving things or what that improved situation might look like. They do generally feel that although things will be a little better for them, it will be enormously better for the elite class. From 35 years of stagnant wages, they’ve developed a kind of learned helplessness. Just like with dogs, they know that regardless of what they do, they are going to be shocked.

The second issue is related to this: it is part of the cause of these feelings of helplessness. Have you seen the major media coverage of efforts to end tax cuts to companies for sending jobs overseas? Most likely, you haven’t. There has been very little coverage of it. It is being blocked in Congress, primarily by Republicans but also by Democrats. And it isn’t that workers are not interested; they are. The major media are just not interested in this issue or any other issue that focuses on the needs of workers. You can hardly watch a news broadcast that doesn’t mention what the stock market did that day. Does that have any relevance to the average viewer? Nope. But it has lots of relevance to the elite reporters and owners of the news sources.

Krugman understands this, of course. Last week he wrote a column about how we have become a country “of the 1 percent, by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent.” And they don’t want protection of jobs in America, because their profits come from all over the world. And that’s why we haven’t heard calls for protectionism.


Personally, I think that protectionism in general is a bad idea. It is often a very good idea when trying to get new industries off the ground. But wholesale, it just ends up hurting all of the countries. My point is not that we should have implemented protectionism, but just that it is natural for it to be discussed. And it wasn’t. And that is indicative of the fact that we really don’t live in a democracy anymore.

Because I Was Not a Terrorist…

Dzhokhar TsarnaevEveryone knows Martin Niemoller’s “First they came for the communists…” poem. These days, we mostly hear it from conservatives because it is based on the slippery slope argument that is so beloved on the right. But I think the poem is fundamentally wrong; oppression doesn’t happen that way.

I was thinking about this yesterday while reading Glenn Greenwald. He was writing about some reporting in the Los Angeles Times that quoted an anonymous source who said that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev repeatedly asked for a lawyer and was refused “since he was being questioned under the public safety exemption to the Miranda rule.” This is a big deal if it is true. It is one thing to not tell a suspect his rights, it is quite another to withhold those rights. And there is nothing in the public safety exemption of the Miranda rule that allows the government to refuse a suspect his right to representation for hours or even days.

And that’s what got me thinking about the Niemoller quote. It is not that we don’t speak up for the “communists” because we are not one. It is that we don’t speak up for them because we hate them. I know the reaction of the vast majority of people in this country to my belief that Tsarnaev deserves all of the guarantees of the Constitution. They would say something along the lines of, “He’s a terrorist! We shouldn’t give him any rights at all!” So may I humbly offer a rewrite:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I hated the communists.

And that really is the way rights are lost. This is why we allow the Nazis to have parades. It isn’t because we like them. As a culture, we hate them. But as John Adams wrote, we have “a government of laws, and not of men.” And if we can’t listen to him, perhaps we can listen to that hippy Jew, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.”

I don’t have any specific fondness for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But I have a great fondness for this country and especially its ideals. And if one criminal can destroy that, we are all lost.

Update (30 April 2013 9:49 am)

Glenn Greenwald just added an update to his article where who quoted by far my favorite founding father, Thomas Paine:

He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

Of course, I’ve found that most Americans today are far more primitive than this great man who died over 200 years ago. Of course, Americans at that time were just as primitive as they are today. But one would hope that they would have improved a little. Alas.