Just A Second – It’s Not That Dark Yet (And We Have A Really Big Flashlight)

“Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ while reaching for a stick.”

Tom and Joe have (respectively) blogged the case for immediately and unilaterally invading or bombing Iran in response to their obvious intention and capability to build nuclear weapons: The Case for Invading Iran and Our Darkening Sky: Iran and the War.

I’m unconvinced, and I think that they are overlooking several critical points which need to be considered in making a decision of this import.I want to get something up quickly, and will beg forgiveness for not writing at greater length of with more cites. I have a feeling this will develop in the comments and next few days.

First, let me put two issues aside.

I think that the moral justification for preemptive war in Iran is not as great as that for Iraq, but certainly exists. It’s on thing – as Israel has done – to build nuclear weapons and to use them to deter others from attacking you. It’s another to build them and in parallel threaten the existence of neighboring countries. One key difference between 9/10/01 and 9/12/01 is that on the 12th, we came to realize that people who made insane threats and had some history of acting on them could no longer be ignored as colorful.

I have no doubt that our army – even limited in capabilities as they are today – could demolish the Iranian army in short order.

Given that I believe that invading Iran wouldn’t be wrong, and that it’s arguable possible, why cavil? The problem with invading or bombing, of course, is what then?

What then in Iran, what then in the face of a world order that will be implacably hostile to us, and what then in the face of a more-united Islamic world.

And while we’ll push back the hands on the proliferation clock, let’s not mistake that for stopping it.

Because, simply, once you’ve built a bomb, building another one is just busywork. And while we might destroy the infrastructure Iran is building to create a bomb, as long as we face a movement that means to do us harm, there will always be a place and a way to rebuild infrastructure.

That’s one of the reasons I supported the invasion of Iraq; because our task is to push back a movement, not defeat an army. We need time in Iraq to keep moving it toward stability to show the rest of the Islamic world that there are options other than kleptocracy and a Caliphate. Does invading Iran now advance that cause?

We’ve made a series of errors that have gotten us to this place; for convenience’s sake, I’ll start with Carter’s ineffective nonresponse to the taking of our embassy in Iran – which in my mind marks the real beginning of the modern Islamist war against the West. Since then, we’ve done nothing to lessen our dependence on imported oil, across three Presidents. Most recently, I’ll lay blame at the feet of President Bush, who missed two clear opportunities: to build the strength of the military over the last four years – which would have required sacrificing domestic programs plus a real effort to spend political capital building support for the war, and to engage the Iranian regime and reach out to the non-insane citizens and politicians that make up a large part of the Iranian polity.

But we’re here, now, and no where else.

Could we smash the Iranian oil infrastructure, depriving them of cash and Europe and China of fuel? Of course. Child’s play. Could we drop the Iranian electricity grid, possibly slowing the centrifuges to a halt? Sure. Could we destroy the Iranian army, and do a smash-and-grab raid on the suspected weapons development sites? Probably.

Then what?

Do we really think that the moderate, pro-Western forces within Iran would survive – I mean physically, not politically – much less be able to take over the country in the face of one of these acts? Do we think that an Iran which had been bombed or invaded would be more or less pro-Western?

What do you think the impact would be on the balance of the Islamic world? How long before someone else starts buying the tools to make a bomb, or buys a completed bomb?

We need to do four things in parallel as regards Iran, starting pretty much right now.

First, we need a national energy policy. It’s not a matter of saving trees, it’s a matter of national defense. We should have done it a decade ago, but tomorrow’s the soonest we can start. Doing this not only has real impacts, but sends clear signals about our intentions and capabilities as well.

Next, we need to build up our invasion-ready forces, by planning with allies, expanding the Army, and rebuilding some of the capability that has been used up in Iraq. We should have been doing this since 2002, but starting today is better than starting tomorrow. See above re signalling capabilities.

Next, we need to sit down and start talking. We need to talk to the Iranian regime, to their opponents, to Russia and China most of all. What are we talking about?

* To the regime, our unwillingness to allow Iran to become a state locus for a worldwide Islamist movement – we may not be perfectly happy for them to be an Islamic state, but we’ll be tolerant of it.

* To their opponents, we need to be giving whatever encouragement and tools we possibly can.

* To Russia and China, we need to make it clear that we’re not planning on taking their oil away.

Why are we talking in the face of a ticking bomb?

Well, because to quote someone smarter than me, “Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ while reaching for a stick.”

While we’re doing that, a few things may happen. The dog may stop growling. We may get a stick.

Or we may get bitten.

I don’t want to get bitten by a dog. But my willingness to risk a dog bite goes up when I’m carrying a gun.

Because I can say with a lot of confidence that the dog will only get one bite.

Chirac just “flashed wood” (showed the butt of his gun) as the New York gang kids used to say. I’d say we need to be even clearer about it, and suggest that a variant on MAD, or what I’ve called “the Godfather defense” (note that commenter “Boyd”: http://www.windsofchange.net/archives/007986.php#c32 suggested a variant in the comments to Joe’s piece) – “if anything happens to my children – if they should be struck by a car, or catch the flu…” We make it clear that while we are discussing this issue, a nuclear attack on Israel or the US will be met with an immediate potentially-nuclear attack aimed at all the Iranian nuke-producing facilities, their conventional forces (esp. the domestic security forces), their C3, and regime leadership. We need to publicly put the assets in place to enforce that threat. It would be nice if some of those assets has other flags on them, and I’m guessing that given the state of things, they just might.

The Iranian leadership may have been infected with a memetic virus that makes them suicidal and insane. But I somehow doubt the entire country has.

Let’s remember that Iran is 30 minutes away from becoming a sheet of glass at our command. That power is real, and gives us both the space to maneuver and the responsibility to use it wisely.

OK, Stand In A Circle And Shoot

The GOP in California is a minority party, and based on today’s news in the L.A. Times, they are bound and determined to stay that way.

Republican activists disenchanted with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Thursday that they will try to strip the governor of the party’s endorsement unless he fires his new chief of staff, Democrat Susan P. Kennedy.

Restive Republicans said they would rally conservatives behind a resolution, to be offered at the state GOP convention in San Jose next month, that may give Schwarzenegger an ultimatum: Dump Kennedy by March 15 or the party will withdraw its backing of his reelection bid.

Cobb asks why I don’t become a Republican; it’s simple. They act like morons.

Here’s the deal, Republicans. You’ve managed, in a historic accident, to elect a moderate to the governorship of California, a state where the money and concentration of votes are still in the deep blue Bay Area and core of Los Angeles. The likely candidates that will replace him are both liberals.

Either you share the Kossak’s delusional belief that everyone secretly agrees with you, and that the masses, once led by your revolutionary ardor, will rise up!…or you just like getting your asses kicked.

In the same sense that I want the national Democratic Party to be an effective one because I think we need a real two-party system, I’d like it a lot if we had a California Republican Party that could do more than buy canapes for it’s leadership at beachside soirees and funnel money upward to the national party.

So go ahead an excommunicate Arnold. I’ll probably go on supporting him (depends on who runs against him), and you’ll become increasingly irrelevant.

Enjoy the rumaki.

Switch – Or Not

Commenter Andy suggests that I pack my bags and head for the door between the Democratic Party and the GOP.

So the only conclusion I think you can come to after this little therapy session is that you should seriously consider a trial separation from the party, or maybe even a divorce.

I’m sure most self-respecting Democrats would agree that it would be in everyone’s best interest.

It’s amusing, because I get parallel pressure from the right…at a dinner with Cobb, after we’d talked politics and I’d laid out my plan to rebuild the Democratic Party, and explained why I thought it needed rebuilding, he laughed and said it’d never happen.

“Switch,” he suggested.

“The last time a large black man suggested that to me,” I replied, “I think he had something completely different in mind.”

Fortunately, Cobb has a sense of humor.

Why not switch? Because the powerful already have plenty of advocates. Because I like clean air and gay marriage. Because I want taxes to be as progressive as is fiscally sound. We need two parties, and the tension that ought to bring. We need a party of business and one of labor; of responsibility and of charity; of growth and of restraint. I like business, responsibility and growth. But my heart is in labor, charity, and restraint.

Right now we have instead is a party of the large corporations, and one of the universities and public-sector labor unions. Mostly we have two cliques of corrupt courtiers, where we ought to have parties, each elbowing hard to get closer to the trough. Jack Abramoff may have been a Republican through and through, but he’s an archetype, not an exception.

Viscerally, I’m a Democrat, albeit an increasingly disenchanted one. Today, as in 2004, I’m a single-issue voter. I’m all about avoiding nuclear war in the Middle East, and as frustrated as I am with the current Administration for their performance on reconstruction, for failing to build the military – we need another 75,000 troops, and for failing to engage the American and world public in support of the war – I look across the aisle and see who, exactly?

The Democrats need to come to terms with some kind of national security policy, and I certainly don’t see it happening in the netroots…take a look at the comment thread on this sensible post by Kevin Drum. And note that LGF has comments that are effectively as looney, so don’t get all full of yourselves.

I see a big part of my role as whacking them with a stick while enough more prominent people work to create policies that make some sense in this arena.

The next biggest part of my role is to try and remind people that being a populist means being for the poor, not for the welfare department employees; for the students, not for the teachers; for the small businessman, not the large corporation.

There are a helluva lot of people who think like I do; we’re the swing vote in many elections. We’re the reason why Perot was a factor, why Ventura was elected, why Schwarzenegger was elected. We haven’t found a home yet, or leaders, but we will.

I’d like that home to be in the Democratic Party. The Democrats better hope it is.

I think We Were Supposed To Learn This In 4th Grade

It’s Rag-On-Atrios Day weekend here at WoC, with a freebie for Al Gore – the man I blame entirely for the Bush presidency. I now can look forward to blaming Duncan Black for the election of the next GOP President in late 2008.

Here’s Atrios:

One of my favorite parts of Gore’s speech was when he called out all the cowardly whiny ass titty babies hiding under their cheetoes packages:
Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once wrote: “Men feared witches and burnt women.”

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of missiles poised to be launched against us and annihilate our country at a moment’s notice? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when our fathers fought and won two World Wars simultaneously?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it is up to us to do the same.

The actual speech was a wee different than the prepared remarks which is what I’m quoting, but you get the idea [ he didn’t actually say the two world wars simultaneously part, which unless I’m confused makes no sense]

[emphasis added by me – A.L.]

Just for the record…Corwallis’ surrender at Yorktown – Oct. 19, 1781. Passage of the Bill of Rights – Dec. 15, 1791. A lot happened in that decade…

Duncan Black has a doctorate?

Just for fun, let’s see if the error is in Dr. Duncan’s gloss of Gore’s speech, or the speech itself (the link above takes you to the text)….yup, it’s Gore.

Dude, don’t you have professional speechwriters to handle that kind of thing? And Duncan … nice demo of the depth and breadth of your knowledge of history – makes me even more confident in flatly dismissing your grasp of current events.

Letter From A Birmingham Jail:

This is from last year’s MLK day, and bears rolling forward today.

I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face Jeering, and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer.

They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My fleets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he k alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,


Today is the day to look inside ourselves for our own Martin Luther King Jr.

Opera Again

So the Little Opera That Could did this weekend…the Long Beach Opera had its first presentation of Wagner’s Ring Cycle; in the “chamber” version first performed by the Birmingham Opera.

Disclosure: I’m a board member at LBO, and so obviously not totally objective. But damn, it was good. It exceeded my best hopes for what it could be, and it managed to deliver a series of moments of breath-taking musicality and theatricality.

Patterico, who joins me in both annoying Michael Hiltzik and enjoying classical music – and who knows far more than I do about both – came along (we brought him to The Sorrow of Young Werther last year, and managed to pique his interest), and came away a musical purist impressed.

There were four operas presented over two days, and for me the excitement of seeing this come off – on a budget that would barely buy bottled water and snacks for a major L.A. Opera production – was blown away as Wotan prepared to cast his spell on his daughter Brunhilde – leaving her to sleep on a rock surrounded by fire awaiting her hero’s kiss – and Wotan (Rod Nelman) and Brunhilde (Diedre Palmour Gorton) managed a scene of such emotional impact that I realized that I wasn’t breathing as I watched them; I caught myself, looked around the theater, and realized that no one else was either.

For the LBO Executive director (and musical director, and conductor, and bottle washer) Andreas Mitisek, and all people who did the work, on and off stage, a triumph. For myself, the feeling of pride that the guy who puts the air in Valentino Rossi’s tires must have…to have been a small part of something wonderful.

There’s an interesting series of posts that may come out of this – on “putting on a show” and what that involves and means, about the satisfaction of seeing art made, and about the role of Wagner in “bad Philosophy” – but right now, I’m just happy.

There is one more performance next weekend, and if you like music, you ought to make it a point to go. Tickets can be had at the LBO website – www.longbeachopera.org. You’ll regret it if you don’t go.

WTF, President Bush?

I commented in passing on the Administration’s apparent disinterest in proving more reconstruction funds for Iraq. I was temperate in my comments in part because I wasn’t sure what, exactly was going on – the budget process is opaque and complex on good days.

But an article in today’s LA Times (yes, I still subscribe) popped a few gaskets.

After more than 2 1/2 years of sputtering reconstruction work, the United States’ “Marshall Plan” to rebuild this war-torn country is drawing to a close this year with much of its promise unmet and no plans to extend its funding.

The $18.6 billion approved by Congress in 2003 will be spent by the end of this year, officials here say. Foreign governments have given only a fraction of the billions they pledged two years ago.

With the country still a shambles, U.S. officials are promoting a tough-love vision of reconstruction that puts the burden on the Iraqi people.

“The world is a competitive place,” Tom Delare, economics counselor at the U.S. Embassy, said this month during a news briefing. “You have to convince the investor that it is worth his while to put his money in your community.”

In the past, as Atrios and Yglesias and others have made the claim that the war was a wrong choice because of the ineptitude of the Bush administration, I stepped up and defended the administration as far from perfect, but generally moving in the right direction.

This decision is a move in such a wrong direction that I’m speechless. Fortunately, I’m typing, not talking.
Over and over what I and others have said – and what I have appreciated President Bush as saying – is that “We’re In Until We Win.” Our opponents cannot simply bloody our troops and sit and wait until we get bored with our venture and leave.

This message – “Oh, we’ll leave our troops in, but sound fiscal policy prevents us for doing anything to reduce the numbers of people shooting at them.” – isn’t ‘bizarre’ as I characterized it before; it’s delusional. And I don’t use a profane adjective here only because I’m turning this post into an email and sending it to the White House (at comments@whitehouse.gov and Vice_President@whitehouse.gov), and I’m going to ask each of you to send your own email excoriating this decision as well.

It is a delusional decision because it damages the ability of the Iraqis who have -literally – put their lives in our hands to trust us to complete the job; it is a delusional decision because it sends a clear message to those who we are fighting that we are only half-serious about this effort; it is a delusional decision because it tells our troops, who sit in harm’s way in Iraq that we are not serious about winning this conflict.

If there was a way I could sputter with outrage in type, I’d be doing it now.

Proving That De Nile…

…is not just a river in Egypt, here’s lemming-like partisan Duncan Black on Abramoff:

Democrats took no Abramoff campaign money. None.

Taking money from Indian tribes is not in and of itself illegal or unethical. Indian tribe money is not implicitly dirty money.

Taking money from Indian tribes who were bilked and cheated by Abramoff does not mean that you yourself are guilty of bilking or cheating those tribes.

This stuff is not complicated. It’s very simple. People working in Washington for a long time certainly understand these things. Why they pretend to not understand them is a mystery.

Look. Abramoff was a GOP creature, without any plausible question or exception. He was a part and parcel of the immoral ‘K Street project,’ without question or exception. The GOP legislators, consultants, and staff who dined at his table deserve what they are going to get.

But if you want to presume that the Republican legislators who got his personal cash were somehow less filthy than the Democratic ones who took his client’s cash, you’re morally blind.

And if you don’t think that’s how the American people will see it, you’re politically blind as well.

Then again, I am talking about Atrios…

I can’t figure it out. At what point does actually winning become a goal for these self-professed partisans? What, exactly, is the attraction of the cliff to them?

The One-Cow State

[Hiltzik replies here. Note my comment, which points out that he didn’t read what I wrote.]

[Note the update below…]

My esteemed colleague (can you tell I was listening to the Alito hearings?) Michael Hiltzik has a column up in the Los Angeles Time business section today (he is the business columnist, after all) in which he explains that the Governor’s budget proposal can only be made fair by – wait for it – raising the income taxes on the highest-income Californians.

Other groups drafted to subsidize the wealthy include the disabled and poorest of the poor. The governor wants to delay a cost-of-living increase due next year for recipients of supplemental security income by 18 months, to July 2008. These recipients are, by definition, needy seniors, the blind, and the disabled. The proposal would deprive them of a total of $233 million, keeping the money for the general fund, over two budget years.

Another $307 million would be saved for the rich by withholding cost of living increases, or COLAs, scheduled to be paid to recipients of CalWORKS grants. The recipients generally are poor families with children.

My first post on Hiltzik dinged him for making exactly this argument back in November of 04.

The problem with doing this is that California is already highly dependent on high-income filers, and their income is variable.

In 2003, (the last year that the FTB has an Annual Report for -note, pdf) the top 5% of filers paid 58.8 of the personal income tax.

Since the personal income tax represented $33.7B of the $73.6B in revenues in the 03 budget, high income filers represented 58.8% of 45.8% of the budget, or 26.9% of the annual budget.

Since this represents 680,000 returns of the 13.6 million filed, it’s fair to say that half a million households provide about a quarter of the revenue to the state.

I think this is an amazingly bad idea. I don’t think that this is a bad idea because it’s unfair to the half-million rich households. I think it’s a bad idea because it builds insane levels of volatility into the state revenue stream.

Looking back on 2003 again, we note a few interesting things (go to page 14):

Exhibit Table B-1 Comparison by Taxable Years shows that, from taxable year 2000 to taxable year 2002, the total Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) declined from $829.5 billion in 2000, to $754.1 billion in 2001, to $731.2 billion in 2002, or an overall reduction of 11.9%. Consequently, the amount of personal income tax dollars deposited to the General Fund declined by 29.2%, from $40.4 billion in taxable year 2000, to $31.3 billion in 2001, to $28.6 billion in taxable year 2002.

The numbers of returns reporting incomes of $200,000 and above also declined between taxable year 2000 and 2002, as illustrated by the following table:

2000 = 414,746
2001 = 371,369
2002 = 349,845

There’s your fiscal crisis right there.

There’s an interesting research project, for someone with more time than I have, to decompose the state revenues for the past decade and really get to the bottom of this.

But by following Hiltzik’s plan, the state is in the position of a farmer with one cow. As long as the cow is healthy, all is well. But as soon as the cow gets sick…

Now taxing the hell out of the Malibu Mafia to pay for improving healthcare for the poor emotionally hits the all the right notes for me (I’m the Armed Liberal, remember). But I’m grown-up enough to notice that what feels good emotionally doesn’t necessarily make for good policy.

I wrote up some notions on tax policy back a few years ago. The notions are kind of wacky, but at least they make more sense than those Hiltzik proposed in our regional paper of record.

Hiltzik does make several other points in the column; the core is that we can’t do all the things we need to without some measure of “fiscal pain.” Since his previous columns have suggested that spending is fixed (or must grow) the fiscal pain he has in mind is simple – raise taxes. And particularly, raise taxes on the half-million.

That’s not fiscal pain, that’s fiscal suicide.

States don’t make spending decisions nimbly. There is very little in the state budget that can readily be cut back midyear when times get tough. And I won’t even talk about the farcical inability of the legislature to even pretend they are fiscally responsible.

Update: Check out the Legislative Analyst’s document on revenue volatility to get a sense of how significant a problem it is here in California.

Black World (Duncan Black World, That Is)

Rocket scientist Duncan Black points with thoughtless glee to the fact that the Iraqis are – a month after their election – trying to work out a government.

Start Wearing Purple

Um, just asking, but it’s been almost a month since the Iraq election and we still don’t know what the final outcome is?

Not that he’s forgotten it – I mean how many national elections cause people to rend their garments for years on end – but what exactly were the headlines in the New York Times like on December 5, 2000?

The politics (and society and economics) of Iraq are far messier than I wish they were. Reality is kind of like that.

And there’s debate about what’s going on and what to do that’s worth having. But because everything in BlackWorld is filtered through one lens – “How can it help my bosses at Media Matters kick the Republicans out” – we get a characteristic cheap shot instead, and a reminder of why it is that Duncan – and to and extent the masters who pay him to blog – aren’t useful participants in that debate.

I genuinely wish they were. Bummer, I guess.