Some Righteous Bulls**t

I’m just wrapping up a day at L.A. BarCamp, kind of a low-key Demo Day for Web 2.0 geekitude.

Mack Reed, over at L.A. Voice is blogging the whole thing.

But I had to blog one…a significant Web guy, who I’m sworn not to name, just publicly – in front of an audience including almost a dozen Yahoo! staffers – called bulls**t on Yahoo for turning in journalist/blogger Yahoo users to the Chinese government to be jailed.

To quote: “Why haven’t you quit your jobs? How do you sleep at night?”

Absolutely right.

Ports, Autarky, Gated Communities, and BBQ

Tim Oren points me at a well-written comment over at the Belmont Club that ties – indirectly – to Chester’s excellent post of the other day. On wretchard’s great post on Blowback, commenter Wanda says:

Going back to Geraghty’s comments and Wretchard’s followup, I think that if this shift in Western opinion is happening (and I think it is) much more than just the ports deal is dead. President Bush is in imminent danger of finding himself left behind by the American people, and he doesn’t seem to realize it. He could soon be in the same position as the leaders and spokesmen of the EU – a font of noble-sounding platitudes and maxims that nobody pays attention to anymore.

Meanwhile, he will have lost his ability to sway his own people’s hearts and minds, because he invested everything in the cause of winning the enemy’s hearts and minds. All the emphasis has been on persuading Muslims to change; how was it possible that nobody thought that WE might change too? That never entered into the calculations; it always seemed to be a given that the West would be eternally patient, open, and willing to woo the reluctant Muslim world. But while President Bush has been anxiously hovering over his delicate Islamic plant, watching for any promising little green shoot that might repay all his efforts, behind him his own garden has changed into a dangerous, bristling jungle. When he finally turns around, he won’t know where he is anymore.

Now, does this suggest that Tom, Trent, Charles Johnson and the LGF community are bellweathers for a future national majority? Can we expect antimuslim rants on Kos and MyDD?

Maybe not so soon.

Let me suggest a likely outcome, based on a humble metaphor. Food. Specifically, my favorite food, BBQ.Here in Los Angeles, we periodically get upscale BBQ restaurants in fashionable locations – The Pig on La Brea is an example – But I tend to look down on the food in places like that (because it usually sucks) and prefer places like Phillip’s, Woody’s, and The Pit.

I’ve got an eclectic group of friends, but one core group who live on the Westside (yes, they’re all far wealthier and more successful than I am but I love them anyway), and we wander around and do friend-type things that often involve food or culture. Many of them are stereotypical, LAWeekly-liberal in their politics; they have a kind of reflexive progressivism. On matters of race policy, they’re probably more progressive than even I am.

But none of them will come to South–Central with me to get BBQ.

And I can watch them go on alert like pointers when we’re walking in Santa Monica and they see a group of two or three fashionably-thugged out black kids.

Their kids go to private schools, rather than the racially mixed schools of Venice or Santa Monica.

So for them, progressive, egalitarian views are great – at arm’s length. Imagine if you would a Michael Moore who lives in an exclusive co-op, and sends his children to private school – wait a minute, he does.

This isn’t about dissing their views; because I don’t (another post on that soon), I understand them. But it is a model to consider as we talk about the notion that a sea-change in “the Western Street” could take place which involves a fundamental belief that we can’t deal with the Arab world, and that what we need to do is to disengage fast and hard.

In essence, it’d be a position that said “we’re washing our hands of you”, bulked up border and internal security, and made it a point never to drive through ‘those neighborhoods’ without locking the doors, and never, under any circumstances, to stop there. It solves that whole messy “war” thing, and makes sure that no one says bad things about us in our hearing. We’d be clean-handed liberals, and feel secure.

And it would be a disaster.

It would first and foremost be a moral disaster, because we’d be condemning billions of people to a battle with a homicidal tyranny that we had a hand in creating (indirectly, through our policies in the Middle east from the 1900’s onward). We’d be condemning Israel to become even more of a besieged outpost than it is today. We’d be condemning Europeans to a bitter struggle with an increasingly empowered minority.

And while we’d have told them all ‘not our problem’ – to quote Atrios:

Certainly an Iran-with-nukes could blow the hell out of a city or two, but an Iran that did such a thing would pretty much cease to exist. It isn’t mutually assured destruction, it’s you fuck with us a little bit and YOU NO LONGER LIVE BITCHES!

Not our problem, because we’d hide behind our wall of nukes.

And it’d be a practical disaster.

It’d be a practical disaster, because the war within the Muslim world would wind up being won by either brutal oligarchs or by homicidal fascists. If the oligarchs win, we’ll have trading partners, for a while, until they need an outside enemy to whip up their population against. If the fascists win, we’ll have a war right away.

Now Atrios may he happy with bombing the Arab world into oblivion. But I’d really like to avoid that if I can.

The last person to propose anything like this in detail was Jim Henley. My response to him pretty much sums up my response to this whole idea:

Maybe I’m just too tired right now; it’s been a heckuva week, on many fronts. But when I was pointed to Jim Henley’s Grand Plan, I just lost the capacity for reasonable thought; it was so dumb, such a dorm-room, bong-hit driven idea of how the world ought to be that I almost left it alone. Then I got a link to it from a non-blog person, and realized that I had to Go Back In There and wrestle with it.

Because for many of the folks on my team – the left – this is what foreign policy ought to look like, and in a big way my fear is that this could become something actually thinkable. And I’m not sure if I’m more scared that Trent’s vision of the world or this one will come to pass. Actually, it’s because I believe that this one leads, almost inevitably, to Trent’s.

It’s a fantasy that we can all move to a gated community and leave our troubles behind. If nothing else, what would we do for good BBQ?

Chester, You Magnificent Bastard!

Every so often someone writes a post that makes me channel Jack Black and go “You bastard! That’s so good – that should have been mine… ” Seriously, there are very few blog posts I wish I’d written – and this is one of them.

So shout out to Chester, and click over and read this:

Is Islam compatible with a free society?

This is the key strategic question of our day.

Is Islam compatible with a free society? A ‘yes’ answer offers a far different set of strategic imperatives than a ‘no’ answer.

(ht – Instapundit…)

Truth And Regulation

[Update: Looking back at this, and then at the post on MyDD, AmericaBlog, and the New York Times, I’m kinda outraged. I mean, the research for this post – looking up actual mine deaths – took me like five minutes. I spent longer making the graphs legible. How freaking wrong is it to do an article or post on mine safety, and not like look at, say, mine safety? Particularly if you’re the newspaper of record or an A-List blogger?]

Here’s a post that’s going to get me in trouble with my left blog friends. I wrote this a few weeks ago, and put it aside; it didn’t seem topical any more, and I’m getting tired of hammering mainstream Democratic issues. I wrote it hoping it might suggest some constructive paths, but knowing full well that we’re going to have to climb a tall wall of disbelief to get there.

Today, the New York Times and MyDD, among others, are leading with stories on mine safety and Administration policy.I’m a fan of regulation. My dad was in high-rise construction. On jobs he ran over a thirty-year career, maybe a dozen men were killed. He never felt it was a trade worth making, and safety was a primary focus of his attention as a boss. And for one of my first jobs I worked one summer as the guy who had to go up on the high iron and convince the steelworkers to use their newly-required safety equipment. The assumption was, I think, that as the boss’ son I wouldn’t get hung by my feet twenty-two stories in the air. They didn’t think they needed any equipment to be safe.

But now that they use it, heavy construction is far safer than it was in the 1960’s.

The air in Southern California when I grew up – in the sixties – was brown and stinging all summer long. There were 10.4 million registered vehicles in Los Angeles County & Orange County in 2004. There were probably about 4 million (based on the number statewide) in 1970. And the air quality is much better today.


It wasn’t the consumers pushing for it, or the enlightened manufacturers of cars (or factory owners) doing to be be crunchy. It was regulation.

Cars today are vastly safer than they were in 1970. Market forces?

Not so much, regulation.

So in the news recently are the mining tragedies that have killed 21 miners so far this year. And a lot of coverage has focused on the lower fines, and perceived lax enforcement by an industry-friendly Administration.

So I started a post on the importance of re-regulating the industry, and toughening regulation to save miner’s lives.

And I went to the Mine Safety & Health Administration to trend out the pattern of deaths.

And got the data that made up this somewhat surprising graph:

If I extend it through 2006, and annualize the 21 deaths reported through Frb 21, here’s the graph I get:
annualized mining.JPG

Will we see 240 deaths in mines this year? Not likely. But even if we do, go ahead and note the gold average line on both graphs. On the left, a Democratic MSHA. The right half? A Republican one.

Dammit. The facts just didn’t support my position. And they don’t support the New York Times’, or Scott Shields’.

What’s the deal?

I did some more digging, and found an interesting article on safety from the California:

The Division of Safety and Occupational Health (division), within the Department of Industrial Relations, is responsible for enforcing California’s health and safety standards. In the spring of 2004, approximately two years after Skyway construction started, it began an informal partnership with KFM allowing the division to conduct periodic compliance assistance inspections. These inspections represented additional access to the site beyond what the division normally would have under state law. To obtain this additional access, the division agreed that no citations would be issued if KFM promptly corrected unsafe conditions or procedures identified during these compliance assistance inspections.

KFM’s reported injury rates for the Skyway were approximately one-fourth the average injury rate of prime contractors on other large Bay Area bridge projects and approximately one-fourth to slightly more than one-third the state and national rates for construction. However, the division does not have a process to verify the reasonable accuracy of employers’ annual injury reports from which injury rates are calculated, because according to the division’s acting chief, the division believes that with its finite resources it must focus on higher priorities. As of September 2005, KFM has recorded 23 injuries in its annual injury reports. Based on evidence available to us, there are indications of 15 alleged workplace injuries and an alleged illness that potentially meet recording criteria. Because there were conflicting positions presented to us by the sources we reviewed and because we are not the entity to make the determination of whether injuries or illnesses are recordable, we notified the division of our concerns and it informed us that it opened a formal investigation into the matter. KFM has a safety program that includes elements identified by safety experts as necessary to promote a safe worksite, but experts note that one element in its safety program—the use of financial or other incentives as rewards for a safe workplace—may lead to the underreporting of injuries.

So basically, instead of periodic or post-incident inspections, citing and fining the contractor when violations occur, the inspectors visit on their own schedule, identify problems, and if the contractor fixes them, no further action is taken.

Now if you credit the 15 possible injuries to the 23 reported ones, you still have an accident rate less than half the typical construction project.

I don’t know if the MHSA is doing anything like this (I assume they’d be publicizing it if they were, and I’ve looked). But I do know that people manage to their metrics, and if our metrics are high fines, we’ll get high fines. If they are low deaths…well, let’s just say that fines alone are not be the metric we ought to be looking at.

And there’s a good post-millenium Democratic issue – how do we take the regulations that got us from the polluted, deadly 50’s to today and make them smarter? How do we make them effective, not at fining or delaying or harassing industry, but at meeting the goals we set when we established the regulations in the first place?

Let’s track deaths and injuries and pollution instead of violations. And let’s fight for policies that lower them – rather than those that track revenue from violations.

“Shop And Awe”…No, Seriously

If you’re not reading ‘Intel Dump’ regularly, you should. The J.D. Henderson article Joe cites below was great, and the post today by Kris Alexander is as well.

Shop and Awe

During 2003, I was an intelligence officer assigned to CENTCOM in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. I worked hard to win, but the military machine of which I was a tiny part can only secure a partial victory. If U.S. trade policy were better adapted to the post 9/11 world, we might ultimately win by dropping more currency than cruise missiles. Call it “shop and awe”.

I spent the initial phases of Iraqi Freedom in Qatar. Right after, we had declared “mission accomplished”, CENTCOM lowered the force protection level enough for a few of us go exploring the in the souk, or market, in Doha, Qatar. Two of us wandered into a shop selling beautiful Persian silk rugs.

“You are American soldiers?” the proprietor asked in accented English. Damn, the haircut gives us away every time.

“Yes sir,” I replied. “Where are you from in the world?”

“Iran,” he stated glaring defiantly from under his turban–a challenge probably borne from watching too much “reality” TV on Al Jazzera.

…go over and read the rest. I’ll spoil the lazy by bringing across his conclusion so I can riff on it:

So, four years after 9/11, why did our government spend so much political energy promoting CAFTA while ignoring trade with the Greater Middle East? Is the economic development of Guatemala more important than Pakistan? And why aren’t we demanding that the Europeans open up to agriculture imports? Currently the Iraqi and Afghani economies are clawing their way back into life. When they re-enter the global economic stage, will they run aground on Western trade policy?

The countries where we are trying to spread democracy need concrete evidence of our commitment to their long-term well-being. Last summer, the Bush administration fumbled around with the idea that we are no longer in the Global War on Terror, or the GWOT. The new term was GSAVE, the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism. It’s all empty semantics without real changes in our policy. Parts of the private sector are getting it right. Why can’t our government?

After 9/11, we were told to keep spending and traveling so the terrorists wouldn’t win. With some adjustments to our trade policies, we might have been on to something. So go buy a rug, and strike a blow for freedom. I know a guy in Doha who will give you a deal.

The most powerful things we have in America are not our military. The most powerful things we have are our markets, and the attraction that we have for the Sumis of the world.

Diebold, Again

California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson has approved the use of flawed (many would say fatally flawed) Diebold voting machines in the June election.

I think that’s a horrible idea, and am working on a series of posts on why.

But if you’re in the group who agrees with people like Bruce Schneier and Avi Rubin that this is a bad idea (using flawed voting machines which can cast doubt on the outcome of elections), please click here to go to Sen. Debra Bowen’s campaign site (disclosure: she’s running against Bruce McPherson for Secretary of State; I know her well; I support her completely) and send the Secretary a message suggesting he rethink his poor decision.

I’m working on a series of posts on this, and trust me – this isn’t a right or left issue.


In the comments to my post below, uber-commenter Chris raises a simple and direct question:

I’ll play your game, AL: what metrics would you find acceptable in determining that the war in Iraq has failed? Do we have to stay in country for 20 years, as allahthatjazz suggests above? or is there any set of conditions that could take place within the calendar year that might make you reconsider your position?

I replied:

What’s the metric? Militarily, ongoing, organized, large-scale fighting between militias. Politically, the renunciation – and not just a theatrical renunciation – by significant blocs from the political process.

The real metric is the willingness of the US public to support the war, and what frustrates me (and I’m not yet articulating it) is the circular nature of the argument, which goes “we can’t support the war because the American people aren’t supporting the war enough to win”.

So let’s go to today’s newspapers…in today’s Washington Post:

In the days that followed the bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine, Iraq seemed within a hair’s breadth of civil war. But an aggressive U.S. and Kurdish diplomatic campaign appears for now to have coaxed the country back from open conflict between Sunni Arabs and Shiites, according to Iraqi politicians and Western diplomats speaking in interviews on Monday.

Among those most upset by the Sunni boycott threat was Talabani, an ethnic Kurd who was able to take a central role in the negotiations because he was perceived as a neutral party.

Ironically, the Kurds stood to gain the most from a civil conflict. They have long wanted an independent state, and revolted against Saddam Hussein in 1991 only to be brutally repressed. But Talabani was deeply troubled by the Samarra crisis, said Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. diplomat who was in contact with Talabani throughout the crisis.

“I’ve known President Jalal Talabani for over 20 years,” Galbraith said. “It is the most pessimistic I’ve seen him, and that includes being in Iraq the night the uprising collapsed and we were fleeing for our lives. Here, he was profoundly disturbed about the future of Iraq.”

Here’s a central figure in the population that flat-out wins when the nation of Iraq collapses – depressed by the risk of collapse, in a position to profit from that collapse, and stepping up to keep it from happening.

I don’t recall any parallels to that in Lebanon in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. And while the risk of collapse is obviously there, no I don’t think we’re near it yet and I still believe that we can avoid it. The question is – will we?