Archive for September, 2007

Marketplace of Ideas

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

Many times our liberal friends remind us that economic markets are not always perfect. A free economic market presumes that all the cost and benefits are born by the buyers and sellers. This is not always the case. For example, water or air pollution can impose costs on third parties not part of this transaction. In such course, the government can be called upon to remedy this “market failure.” This argument is a reasonable one.

Americans rightly justify the notion of a“free marketplace of ideas,” as the crucible that we use to filter the validity of ideas. However, it is important to recognize that this marketplace can have it failures too. For the free marketplace of ideas to work, honesty and a open willingness to subject ideas to critical evaluation are required. Because we recognize the delicate importance of free and open inquiry, we do not permit the government to step in to remedy market failures in the marketplace of ideas. We rely on the self regulation and good judgment of free people.

This issue is what makes the recent speech at Columbia Univeristy by Iranian President Ahmadinejad so problematic. Because Ahmadinejad does not subscribe to rules of open inquiry, when invited to prestigious institution like Columbia University, the hosts are sandwiched between two unappealing alternatives: appear rude by vigorous confrontation or allow Ahmadinejad to spread his propaganda with less than the most energetic rebuttal. Under pressure for the embarrassing invitation, Columbia’s president Lee Bollinger decided to confront Ahmadinejad. It is not that Ahmadinejad did not deserve Bollinger’s direct criticism, but the remarks gave Ahmadinejad an excuse to suggest that as a guest he was unfairly attacked. Ahmadinejad played the victim.

The most poignant rebuttal to Ahmadinejad was outside the hall where Ahmadinejad spoke. There was small placard topped with a photograph of Shiri Negari, a twenty-one year old young woman, tens days from her twenty-second birthday, who was killed by a suicide bomber in Israel. The placard read: “My name is Shiri Negari and I would like to speak at Columbia too, but I was murdered when Iran gave money to Hamas to blow up the bus I was on.”

At, there is a memorial web site lovingly maintained by Shiri’s family. The site is populated with photographs, videos, and testimonials that paint the picture of a promising and beautiful life snuffed out by an ideology of death.

Bolllinger should have resolved his introduction dilemma by playing the short video at Shiri’s site that tells the story of her too-short life. The Bollinger could have simply asked why Iran supports a group that would deliberately and indiscriminately kill people like Shiri. There is no acceptable answer to that question, and Shiri would have been the remedy to a market failure.

Columbia University and Free Speech

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

Universities, if no other places, ought to be free speech free-fire zones where peacefully conducted speech is accommodated and encouraged. Persuasiveness and cogency in the “free marketplace of ideas” is the arbiter of ideas not mere assertion of authority. Indeed, it is only by testing and honing our ideas against others that we can be assured that we have not blundered into unrecognized error. Ideas ought not be prevented a hearing because some find them offensive or even evil.

This is this context in which Columbia University argues the reasonableness of inviting Iranian President Ahmadinejad, as part of the “Columbia Distinquished Lecture Series,” to speak at Columbia. Ahmadinejad actions and ideals are certainly controversial. He has spent the last year suppressing free speech of professors at Iranian universities, denying the Holocaust, threatening the existence of Israel, and pursued nuclear weapons in defiance of its signature on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It is reasonable to argue that this particular invitation is more than just a concession to the disciplines of free speech. There is an implied university endorsement since the invitation is part of a distinguished lecture series. However, this little inconsistency could be overlooked if Columbia had a reputation and long history of open free speech. Unfortunately, Columbia University’s history is different. The non-partisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) rates the university stats as “red” where “ at least one policy … both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.” Fire reports that:

1) Columbia University requires an ideological litmus for its students in its Education School. Students must affirm that “social inequalities are often produced and perpetuated through systematic discrimination and justified by societal ideology of merit, social mobility, and individual responsibility.”

2) Columbia University’s Law School refrained from punishing a law professor for the phrasing of a hypothetical question on a law examination only after FIRE’s intervention. The law school’s instinctive reaction is, nonetheless, instructive. It took outsiders to point out that the punishment would have violated principles of academic freedom.

3) The university punished the hockey team for using the word “pussy” in a recruitment flier. The silly argument reduced to whether the word as offensive to women or whether it was reference to the university’s lion mascot.

Columbia University was also the site where a presentation by the Minutemen (invited by Columbia College Republicans), a movement to enforce US immigration laws, ended when some Columbia students stormed the stage to silence the speakers. Though Lee Bollinger, the President of Columbia University, decried the incident and issued some warnings and punishments to some of the students involved, many believe the censures were not proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Indeed, the censures will be removed from the transcripts of offending students upon graduation. This rebuke does not even reach the threat level of third grade teachers who would warn students that bad behavior would end up on “your permanent record.” Rather, the punishments from Columbia University are not likely to deter similar incidents in the future.

At the same time that that the President of an Iranian government that is providing equipment to kill young American soldiers in Iraq, Columbia prohibits ROTC on campus. Columbia does not appear equally hospitable to all ideas.

Columbia may argue that the invitation to President Ahmadinejad is a logical consequence of their commitment to free speech. However, given the University’s efforts to suppress ideas they do not agree with, the university should forgive us if many are not entirely persuaded.

The Left, Patriotism, and the Military

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

Presumably one of the conventional lessons of the Vietnam War was not to let anger at a war spillover to mistreatment of the war fighter. This is especially true for Vietnam where many of the combatants were drafted. It is lesson that, in some quarters, seems to be misplaced during the current conflict In Iraq.

In addition, the American Left seems to feel a little too sensitive at even the slightest suggestion that it is not sufficiently patriotic. In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack, President Bush called upon the world to fight terrorism, more specifically Islamo-Fascism. Too many times, erstwhile American allies and friends had turned a blind eye or even deliberately harbored terrorists. The time had pasted to straddle the fence. Countries were asked to decide whether they wanted to be counted among our friends and not acquiesce Islamic terrorism. The shorthand for this new position (which, by the way, has not really been enforced) was expressed “you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Actually, the entire quote was, “…we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

Nonetheless, the Left continually whines about the “you’re with us or against us” phraseology, suggesting that Bush is saying that anyone who disagrees with the approach taken by the Administration is unpatriotic. It is convenient to play a victim, but to deliberately abuse a phrase from Hamlet: “The [Left] doth protest too much, methinks.” The only ways the Left could construe this phraseology as a challenge to patriotism is if it harbors an unspoken guilt or if it wants to exploit the phrase for political advantage. We do not endeavor here to decide which.

Actually, the challenge to personal patriotism generally comes more from the Left than from the Right. In 2004, General Wesley Clark, in his unsuccessful bid for the presidential nomination of the Democratic party, appealed to the party’s rabid Left by routinely claiming, “I don’t think it was a patriotic war. I think it was a mistake, a strategic mistake, and I think that the president of the United States wasn’t patriotic in going after Saddam Hussein.” Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean decried Bush’s plan to re-structure Social Security as “not an American thing to do.” Using “un-American” to describe a policy disagreement is more frequently a practice of the Left than the Right. The Left can make such allusions with nary a voice of response, while if someone on the Right suggests that someone is un-American they would be loudly and publicly rebuked in the main-stream-media.

There remains the general perception that the Left does not much care for the military or for the US and Left usually brings these aspersions upon itself. Even beyond the exercise of trumpeting every mis-step by an American solider and largely ignoring nobility and and heroism by the military, is the inability or unwillingness of some liberals and Democrats to distance themselves from the extreme elements of the Left.

Three weeks ago, ran a full page ad in the NY Times (where else) suggesting that General David Patraeus might “betray us.” For most, the ad was way over the line. The ad did not challenge General Patraeus’s professional assessments, but his character. The story would have died after a day, if the Democratic presidential front runners had loudly condemned the ad and disassociated themselves from it and Even given a chance to condemn the ad in a Senate resolution, 25 Senators, including Senator Hillary Clinton, declined to do so. Senator Barack Obama did not register a vote.

Now Senators Clinton and Obama in their hearts do not believe that Pateous would in any sense betray his country, but they can’t say so lest the upset the wing of their party. The behavior of Clinton and Obama will not likely be included in a future volume of Profiles in Courage. The refusal to condemn the ad is purely a shrewd political calculation. One must ask if these Senators have difficulty in standing up to the political partisans at, it is hard to understand what courage they would display in confronting murderously dangerous enemies abroad.


Sunday, September 16th, 2007

It will be many years before it is possible to dispassionately write a book or review a book about Vice-President Dick Cheney. In the near term, it is very likely that any book or review will reflect at least as much about its author as its subject. For those who object to the policies with which Cheney has been associated, nothing but a book that paints Cheney in the darkest hues will be remotely sufficient. Those who are favor or at least sympathetic to Cheney’s policies, Cheney’s decisions and influence will be buttressed with stories about his acknowledged competence and experience. Stephen F. Hayes, an senior writer for the Conservative Weekly Standard, has acknowledged as much in discussions about his recent book entitled Cheney: The Untold Story of America’s Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President.

Within the constraints of dealing with this particular contemporary subject, Hayes provides a valuable service. Because he is perceived as sympathetic to the Bush Administration’s policies, Hayes was granted an extraordinary 30 hours of face time with Cheney. Notoriously distrustful of the press, he does not generally grant interviews. The information Hayes garnered will provide for later biographies heretofore invaluable raw material from which to gain insight into Cheney’s thinking.

Although always considered bright in school, Cheney did suffer some setbacks in his late teens and early twenties. Because of poor academic performance after two years, he was asked to leave Yale and yield a scholarship he had won. Spending a year in Wyoming as a linesman, his star descended further as he was arrested two times for DWI. It was not until Lynne Vincent (later his Cheney’s wife) an academic in her own right, told Cheney that she any future husband of hers would have to behave better, that Cheney reversed his decline. He enrolled at the University of Wyoming, earning his bachelor’s and master’s in degrees political science. Indeed, he was on his way to a PhD and a quiet academic career, until he got involved in politics, serving as an intern for a Wyoming state legislator. Cheney was not particularly partisan and was assigned to Republican representative only because the other intern selected insisted on being assigned to a Democrat. Later President George W. Bush was described as the accidental president because of his close victory in 2000. However, in a very real sense, decades earlier Cheney had become an accidental Republican.

Cheney’s big break on the national political scene was to work for Donald Rumsfeld who was the Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity in the Nixon Administration. This situation is key understanding Cheney’s Conservative view of economic policy It is here that he was became disenchanted with the power of government to micromanage the economy. He and Rumsfeld led the failed wage and price control efforts of the Nixon Administration. Rumsfeld went on to become Chief of Staff in for President Gerald Ford. Later when Rumsfeld became Secretary of Defense for Ford, Cheney took his place as Ford’s Chief of Staff. In the course of a little more than a decade, Cheney had risen from a Wyoming linesman in to one of the most important positions in the Executive Branch.

After Ford lost to then Governor Jimmy Carter in 1976, Cheney returned to Wyoming and was trying to decide whether to go into business, when Wyoming’s single Congressional representative seat opened up on a retirement. Senator Alan Simpson, later one Cheney’s best friends in Washington, was running at the same time for the open Senate seat.

In Congress, Cheney rose rapidly to leadership positions, because of his reputation for fairness, competence and discreteness. Minority Leader Robert Michael, helped Cheney’s career because he judged Cheney an up-and-coming moderate voice in a Republican Party increasingly dominated by followers of Ronald Reagan. Actually, Cheney’s voting record was very Conservative, but because he worked tirelessly for Ford’s nomination in 1976 against Reagan.

When inaugurated in 1989, George H. W. Bush originally nominated John Tower as Secretary of Defense. It was soon clear that Tower’s reputation for consuming too much alcohol and chasing too many women disqualified him for such a sensitive position. Cheney’s nomination to that position was large viewed as bi-partisan selection. Cheney’s experience in Congress demonstrated that he could work comfortable across the aisle. Looking back at the comments of the time, Democrats largely could not say enough good things about Cheney.

Cheney’s major test during the administration of the first George Bush came during the first Gulf War. Cheney and then Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell proved to be a effective team. During this conflict, Cheney buttressed his reputation has a thoughtful competent leader.

Hayes reminds us Cheney’s reasoning that for not proceeding to Baghdad to after the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait. Cheney spoke of the difficulty in dealing with the different religious factions in Iraq and the door-to-door fighting that might ensue. These are all warnings that should have been more carefully considered a decade later. Hayes also reminds us of the criticism of Vice-President Gore, running with Clinton in 1992, that the Bush Administration had not done enough to deal with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein with regard to WMD and his support of terrorists.

Cheney is a person of irony. He was selected to run with George W. Bush as vice-president because he lent a certain gravitas and competence to an candidate inexperience in foreign policy. Yet he now is caricaturized as an overanxious warrior. Cheney did not have ambitions to succeed George W. Bush as president. As a consequence, he ended up having more power and influence than perhaps any other vice-president in history.

The key insight to understanding Cheney what changed the cautious Cheney into a forceful advocate for the Iraq War is September 11. The Bush Administration had to make some terrible decisions during those attacks on the United States. They knew what it was like to lead a country under attack and it colored the way Bush and Cheney subsequently viewed the world. Although United Flight 93 crashed because of a conflict between the terrorists and the passengers, according the Hayes, Cheney passed along a order to shoot down the plane. After hearing that the plane had gone down, for some horrible moments the leadership did not know if their order had actually been carried out.

Since 9/11, the United States homeland has not been directly attacked. Some believe that the original threat was overblown and that 9/11 was a terrible anomaly. Cheney is convinced that the policies that the Bush Administration has been pursued, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and aggressive anti-terror intelligence, are the reason we have not been attacked. It is this assessment by Cheney that explains Cheney’s determination to continue to pursue them despite external criticism. This single understanding is worth the purchase price of the book.

What Sort of Despotism Democracies Have to Fear

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

“Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.” — Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Chapter 6, What Sort of Despotism Democracies Have to Fear.

It would be convenient if tyrants would announce their presence with snarly demeanors, black hats, or curly dark mustaches. Unfortunately, tyranny insinuates itself in democracies sweetly wrapped in kindness and genuine good intentions. In order to institute plans for the good of all, certain actions must be circumscribed and other duties compelled for the good of all. De Tocqueville recognized this inherent weakness in democracies. It is just as easy to find oneself ruled by a single tyrant or the tyranny of the majority. Our Founding Fathers hoped that in large democracies it might be less likely that a permanent majority could maintain itself and that competing“factions” would check each other.

One of the most recent examples of this danger of soft despotism came when Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards’s explained his proposed national medical plan. We can thank Edwards for carrying through the logic of his advocacy for socialized medicine. In an effort to keep the cost of his plan lower, Edwards is going to demand preventive care. His program “requires hat everybody be covered. It requires that everybody get preventive care .. .You have to go in and be checked and make sure that you are OK.” Besides requiring that everyone get regular check ups, all woman would require regular mammograms.”

Now such actions may appropriate for reasonable people to decide to do, requiring them under the threat of penalty is intrusive. If one carries out Edwards’s logic to its ultimate conclusion, government could leverage medical care to controls over a larger variety of heretofore personal activities. Controlling diet, exercise routines, risky behavior such as certain sports, some sort of sexual behavior, or decisions when to have children, could all fall into activities liable to regulation by a government desperately trying to hold down costs. Government programs are notoriously inefficient and the more government controls medical care the more greater the need to institute cost controls.

The internal logic of personal liberty is that individuals are free to do whatever they want as long as their actions are private, not affecting others. As soon as we socialize the costs of medicine, there are no private actions. Virtually any activity can affect health costs and are thus legitimate avenues for regulations. As the scope of private action shrinks so does freedom.

What is worse, as De Tocqueville recognized, as individuals cede personal decisions to other authorities, they fall out of the habits of individual autonomy. They begin to look for guidance and direction, rather than chafe against supervision. They transform from robust individuals to a herd of sheep deferential to their shepherd government.

What Does the Correlation Mean?

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

A study was recently published in the Journal of Family Issues that found that men who live with their girlfriends are more likely to help in household chores than similarly situated married men. This finding raises significant questions. Are men who decide to move in with their girl friends more liberal in their social attitudes and consequently less likely to assume traditional male roles? Do men who live with their girlfriends assume that the relationship is provisional and are thus on their best behavior? In married life, do men feel a greater responsibility to provide for their families and are consequently too exhausted by work to contribute as much to household maintenance than they otherwise might be?

Deeper in the report is the curious datum that men who help out around the house find that their mates are more eager to engage in sex. The implicit suggestion to men is that if you are more helpful around the house you might be rewarded by a more energetic mate willing to have sex more frequently.

Neil Chethik another sociologist was was quoted by US News as averring, “If men are interested in keeping their sex life vibrant, they may help to wash the dishes and vacuum every now and then…”’

The study in the Journal of Family Issues was written by two woman and only one man, so the alternative explanation might not come quickly to mind. Allow me to humbly submit that the causation in the housework-help-to-sex correlation might be in the opposite direction. A willingness on the part of women to engage in more frequent and boisterous sex might put men in such a positive frame of mind that they are enthusiastic about helping their mate around the house. Just a suggestion.

In Defense of a Little Hypocrisy

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

Now that Senator Larry Craig of Idaho has resigned as a consequence of the the charge of soliciting gay sex in a public restroom at the Minneapolis Airport, perhaps we have reason to consider the more general question of what constitutes hypocrisy. Craig had been an vocal advocate of “family values,” so his legal and moral predicament obviously lends itself to the charge of hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy rests on pretense; the pretense of advocating one thing and in one’s private affairs acting a different way. Unfortunately, such a strong and inflexible standard makes hypocrites of us all. All of us profess standards we aspire to but that natural human imperfections make impossible to always achieve. If we are all hypocrites, then the term looses meaning. Hypocrisy is consequently a continuum ranging from conventional human frailty to presumptuous pretense.

In the area of public policy, what is often characterized as hypocrisy is an unfair charge. Someone can genuinely advocate one public policy, while arranging one’s own private affairs differently in the context of given law. For example, one could earnestly believe that the tax deductibility of homoe mortgages should be eliminated, while at the same time taking advantage of the existing provisions of the law in one’s own finances and not be a hypocrite. It is possible to be in favor busing of students to achieve racial ntegration and send one’s own kids to private schools and not be a hypocrite. It is possible to be gay, and oppose the agenda of the most vocal gay lobby and not be a hypocrite.

As long as people advocate their positions out of humility they are generally safe from charges of hypocrisy. True hypocrisy enters with when finger-wagging pretension. If one vocally chastises others for any behavior and then gets caught red-handed violating their own strictures, the charge of hypocrisy is appropriate. This why those preachers who self-righteously extort their flocks to good moral behavior and then repeatedly engage in immoral behavior are so easily labeled as hypocrites. That is why those environmentalists who direct people to live their lives frugally yet wallow in conspicuous consumption themselves remain striking hypocrites.

Hypocrisy is a real vice and there are two ways to avoid it: (1) Combine high aspirations for behavior with a humble recognition of personal limitations, or (2) Have to no high moral aspirations one can fail to meet. The former is preferred.