October 2004
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Month October 2004

A real plan for Iraq: are we expecting the impossible during a debate?

Many are faulting both candidates for not articulating a more detailed plan for Iraq during the debates. David Broder’s latest column in WaPo is just one example.

I’m a policy and details person, so naturally I’m interested in the forward-looking plans as well. But I’m coming to wonder whether the truth is, that neither candidate can offer a detailed plan on the ground because we simply don’t know what will work. Thus, the Bush campaign falls back to “staying the course,” and the Kerry campaign wants to repair alliances and bring in allies to help. Neither is so much a plan as an approach.

Approaches to the problem might be all we have at the moment. Reclaiming areas from insurgents doesn’t appear to yield to general solutions — though locally negotiated solutions seem to be yielding incremental improvements (I’m thinking here of the nascent arms-for-aid swap in Sadr City). Juan Cole (who is extremely well informed on the situation although conservatives may find his outlook not to their tastes) believes that the Mahdi will not disarm completely, but may turn over excess weapons and avoid appearing in the streets heavily armed.

What I’m saying is that it may be unreasonable right now to expect a detailed, simple plan for how we “fix” Iraq from either candidate. God knows I’d love to hold the Administration’s feet to the fire on how to fix things, but I don’t think they know how to do it. I don’t think Allawi knows how to do it. And Kerry, since he’s got even less information than either Allawi or the Administration, can’t be expected to know, either.

So we have to judge these candidates not on the details of plans which likely don’t exist. We have to judge them on their approaches. On their philosophies of action, on what they will try to do going forward in Iraq.

At least, that’s how I’m going to be looking at tomorrow night’s debate and subsequent campaign rhetoric on Iraq.

When regulation goes bad: HR 3752 and the threat to private space flight

Bills are going through the House and Senate right now that will effectively stop all manned private space flight, along the lines of Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne. The amendment to HR 3752 (its Senate counterpart is S.2772) purports to protect crew and passenger safety. In fact, however, the amended bill places stringent requirements on crew safety that can’t be met during the experimental phase of flying test vehicles.

Passenger and crew safety are important to protect, yes, especially if private space flight becomes an industry. Consumers would need the kind of protection from negligence we try to create in the commercial airline industry.

But we’re not there yet. By definition, test pilots are flying vehicles that haven’t flown the tens of thousands of missions needed to compile a flight safety record. Virtually all of the research and development for private manned space flight will be done with a smaller margin of safety than current commercial air traffic. The companies developing private space flight know this. Their insurance companies know this. The test pilots, and their families, know this. Their investors know this. It is, quite simply, their choice. Their use of the liberty afforded to citizens.

Nobody involved in private space flight is saying that they won’t achieve FAA “production” safety standards before the time comes to let a customer fly. But as HR 3752 and S.2772 seem to read today, this nascent industry will never get that far. Manned space flight will remain a government monopoly, profitably contracted out to the largest aerospace companies and defense contractors. The safety regulation will not affect government-led space flight, of course.

Which means that HR 3752/S.2772 have the effect — whether intentional or not — of raising protectionist barriers around aerospace contractors who currently run government and military space efforts. The amended bills will kill competition in the nascent industry. The amended bills amount to a revenue guarantee for aerospace contractors as the demand for commercial space flight continues. And a victory for industry lobbyists.

Write the Senators on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and express your opinion on the last-minute amendments.

UPDATE: The bill seems unlikely to move forward right now, and several Senators may try to broker a compromise.

Sick and tired of arguments against voting

I’m getting sick of arguments for not voting that boil down to “your vote won’t matter in deciding the winner.” Such arguments range from the easily ignored to “serious” quantitative analyses by economists and public choice theorists. Steven Landsburg’s recent article in Slate was the last straw, however.

Landsburg argues that your vote doesn’t matter, because the chances of your vote “deciding” the winner are miniscule. Even in Florida in 2000, your chance of being a tie-breaking vote was 1 in 3100; in today’s election, your chance of casting the tiebreaker is (he says) 1 in 10 to the 1046th power. I have no reason to quarrel with these numbers. If you believe that voting is “about” being the person whose vote broke a tie, then it’s reasonable to conclude that Landsburg, or some of the libertarian fringe that post on Lewrockwell.com, are right. But I didn’t come of age believing that voting was about breaking ties, and I’ll bet neither did you.

Why young people should still be afraid of a draft

Both candidates have claimed there won’t be a draft. President Bush looked in the camera and promised no draft on Friday night. But young people are still rightfully afraid. Via MyDD, here’s Tim Ryan (D-OH) giving a fiery speech on why college students don’t buy the rhetoric.

Right under our noses…Bush, Dred Scott, and Supreme Court appointments

I’ve been scratching my head since Friday night, wondering what the heck the President was saying, mentioning Dred Scott v. Sandford in his answer to the question of appointing Supreme Court justices. Is that the only decision he could remember? Did he start cutting class midway through American history?

As usual, the blogging community has the answer. Improbably, the President’s mention of Dred Scott is code within the pro-life community for cases the Court has wrongly decided…in other words, Roe v. Wade. So while most of us were sitting on our couches, scratching our heads, and wondering why the President seemed stuck in the mid-19th century, he was actually speaking directly to the pro-life community and pledging to appoint justices that will consider Roe v. Wade to be a terrible mistake.

In case you think this is far-fetched, try a Google search of “Dred Scott” and “abortion” together. The comparison between the two famous cases is all over the anti-abortion/pro-life community.

Well, we knew that this election would affect who was appointed to the next several Supreme Court seats. And Friday night, we heard confirmation that President Bush, in his second term, is going to be much more likely to drive socially conservative issues than he has been during his first term.

Kudos to Paperwight for his post on the connection.

Post-debate thoughts

So…debate wrap-up. The debate likely helped Kerry more than Bush, who had everything to lose. And likely lost a few people with tired repetition of talking points instead of real plans. I was happy with how Kerry did, but I thought he lost a couple of opportunities to really “rise” above the rhetoric and establish himself as beyond the pettiness. More on this later.

Kerry did, however, show real evidence of absorbing George Lakoff’s lessons about “framing” — as the Orwellian comment concerning the “Clean Skies” initiative shows. That could help, at least avoid the pitfalls of playing into the conservative vision, but framing is also something that requires repetition and support.

I’m a bit confused about the $87 timber company thing. Does anybody know what that was all about? I thought it was one of Kerry’s weaker moments, and it gave Bush the ability to play the “folksy humor” card.

On the last question, about regrets and changing one’s mind, I appreciate the fact that Kerry had to be on the offensive, but wouldn’t it have been much stronger for Kerry to come out and say something like: “Unlike the President, who seems unable to see or admit mistakes, I’ve made mistakes and learned from them. Here are some mistakes from my career that I’ve learned from….” There has to be some material which isn’t damaging which somebody with a long career can use to establish their ability to rethink, learn, and grow…I don’t know. It seemed like an opportunity to show that he’s strong enough to admit when he’s wrong and learn from it. And that’s something that’s crucially missing from this administration, and a fatal flaw.