Smart Diplomacy

Smart Diplomacy:

This is what comes of forgetting that you are not President of the World.

Quirk of Fate

So Close To Agreement:

By an odd quirk of fate, the last time we talked about Bernard-Henri Levy, it was in combination with today's topic, which is Garrison Keillor. The last time was about trying to reach out to our left-leaning brethren and explore a way in which we might be able to both have the America we want.

Something like that appears true again today. Much is made about Keillor's mean-spirited joke that we could solve the national debt if we eliminated Republicans (an unlikely proposition, given that only half of Americans pay income taxes, and most of those people are Republicans; seventy-five percent of income taxes are paid by married people, and being part of a married couple is perhaps the strongest indicator for membership in the Republican party. Heck, half of my marriage is Republican).

However, take a look at this earlier section of his piece, about the roots of the financial crisis:

...the disaster in the banking industry that ate up a lot of 401(k)s, and all thanks to high-flyers in shirts like cheap wallpaper who never learned enough to let it discourage them from believing that they had magical powers over the laws of economics and could hand out mortgages to people with no assets and somehow the sun would come out tomorrow.
Wow! That's perfect agreement between right and left about the cause of the disaster: reckless loans to people who couldn't pay it back. The only problem is that he prefaces and follows this assessment with a loopy way of blaming "the anti-regulation conservatives," rather than the anti-regulation liberals.

But let's not look a gift horse in the mouth! Reagan said that there was no limit to what could be accomplished if you didn't care who got the credit; the same is true if you don't care who gets the blame. So long as we're all agreed now that we can't be letting people borrow money who will not be paying it back, we can proceed. We can argue for years to come about whether the blame falls mostly on conservative "nihilism" about governance, or the alliance of some liberal politicians with corrupt inner-city predators. If we agree on a solution, we can set it in place, and have the fight about blame after.

Not a Joke

No Joke At All:

A commonplace of American humor is the joke taking the form, "Did you hear the one about the farmer's daughter?" This time, however, there is no joke: just a proud woman who has done a mighty deed.



Stabbed in the back, man. I mean, who got this guy elected?

Seriously, a wise call by the administration on this issue. Given that it does put them crosswise with an important part of their base -- one whose continued goodwill they need very much -- it was a brave as well as a wise decision.

John Stewart is Wrong

John Stewart is Wrong:

Lancelot was a dragon slayer. He slew the dragon at the chapel near King Pelles' castle, on the occasion that he met Elaine (not the Lily Maid of Astolat, but the other Elaine, on whom he fathered Galahad).

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Chuck Grassley's Debt and Deficit Dragon
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorRon Paul Interview

Stewart wasn't wrong, though, about his larger point.

Honor Means What?

The Philosopher's Petition:

Professor Althouse excoriates French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy for his failure to explain exactly why he feels that Roman Polanski should go free.

Even philosophers are sometimes free to write simple calls-to-action, but I do agree that it would be helpful if he explained some of his terms. I was particularly struck by this section:

We ask the Swiss courts to free him immediately and not to turn this ingenious filmmaker into a martyr of a politico-legal imbroglio that is unworthy of two democracies like Switzerland and the United States. Good sense, as well as honor, require it.
Honor requires it?

Honor requires that the strong be a friend to the weak. In this case, the weak would be the girl, now apparently a married woman. Insofar as she seems to want the matter dropped, to judge from the press coverage, one might argue that it could be honorable to follow her wishes and allow the matter to drop. I don't think you could argue, however, that honor requires you to do so; and at least for the district attorney in L.A., his honor is quite clearly involved in doing his office to the best of his ability.

The comment was directed at the Swiss courts, though: their honor, apparently, requires them to release Polanski instead of turning him over to the United States. Why would that be the case? The Holocaust has been proposed as a reason that Europeans feel that Polanski has to be protected; his mother died in it, and he himself survived in the ghettos. Perhaps the claim is that European honor is concerned with protecting those they failed to protect before; the Swiss courts should feel an obligation to prevent the arrest and deportation of a Jew to his tormenters precisely because the French were once complicit in helping to send their Jews to earlier torments.

Yet the cases are entirely different; we are not talking about genocide, but about a perfectly lawful proceeding resulting from a violent crime to which he pled guilty. Protecting the innocent is one thing; protecting the guilty is quite another. Honor cannot be concerned with protecting the guilty.

What I am left with is the sense that Mr. Levy believes that Polanski's contributions as an artist are so great that Polanski's own honor should place him above spending the rest of his life in prison. Honor thus requires releasing this great man; it is absurd that an incomparable artist should languish in prison like a common criminal. After all, he crafted such masterpieces as this:

If that's the argument to be made -- that it is his personal honor that requires he be released -- the philosopher should remember that Polanski's is not the only honor that must be considered.

The honor of a 13-year-old girl is not a small matter. For the lady she became, we might forbear; but for her as she was, he ought to be destroyed. If the Swiss courts hold their hand because of honor, let it be to honor her and her wishes.
Honor is a Gift:

...but it isn't 'a gift a man gives himself.' It comes from what he gives for other things.

Fine movie, though.

Oceans 13

Oceans 13:

Fareed Zakaria loves serious people.

At the National Review's Web site, a debate -- an entirely serious debate among serious people -- broke out as to whether the speech proved that Obama actually wanted the world's tyrants to win, in the tradition of past intellectuals who admired Mussolini and Hitler. This is the discourse of American conservatism today: Obama is bad because he loves "death panels" and Hitler.

There is a serious case to be made that it's not worth taking the United Nations seriously, that it's an anachronistic institution based on 60-year-old geopolitics and a platform for tyrants and weirdos.
Reminds me of the opening threat in the move Oceans 13.

"So... some guys I take seriously tell me you're a serious guy."

And what happens when you ignore the warnings of the serious guys?

Only this time it's not a casino. It's the wealth of the United States.

Competing Thoughts

Failure Means Success:

On the one hand, the polling continues to get worse:

Independents now oppose ObamaCare by almost than 3-1, 72%-26%, which is almost the same as the Republican split at 79%-19%. More tellingly, a majority of independents (52%) strongly oppose it. Fifty-nine percent of seniors oppose ObamaCare, with the aforementioned 46% strongly opposing and only 16% strongly supporting it. But the news gets even worse in the preceding age demographics, with majorities in opposition among voters in their 30s (57%), 40s (65%), and 50-64 (58%). Among the 40s, a majority are strongly opposed (54%).
On the other hand, party insiders are saying, 'Hey, we can armwrestle this thing in!'
How can I be optimistic that Democrats alone can reform health care? Because these aren’t your parents’ Democrats. The single biggest reason, I believe, that the Democrats lost in a landslide in 1994 was because they failed on health care. More important, congressional Democrats believe it.
It's important that they believe it, but is it true? I was around in 1994 too, and what I recall people being angry about was that Democrats were attempting a government-takeover of health care, not that they failed to achieve one.

The counterargument -- I believe I heard Bill Clinton making it, once -- was that once the bill was passed, people would come to love the program. Perhaps, if our failure to understand it was the reason we hated the idea so much; but surely not by the 1994 elections, during which window even the greatest of such super-complex plans would still be bedeviled by confusion and disruption as people tried to figure it out and make it work. It seems to me that Democratic success would have increased the 1994 debacle, not lessened it.

I have tremendous respect for Megan McArdle, whose writings I've been reading since Elise recommended her earlier this month. She stated recently that she thought that some version of reform was almost sure to pass; even in the face of the new polls, she still thinks it's the way to bet. "But only if they move quickly. If it stretches beyond early November, I'd put the odds at less than 25%, unless they manage some surprise upset in the elections they look set to lose."

I'm going to bet otherwise, in spite of my respect for the lady. I'll bet that they can't ram the process through "quickly," because the will to do it isn't there. (Mickey Kaus was right about that). I'll bet further that the Democrats with concerns for their survival are going to want to find ways to delay the process until after those November elections -- after all, why not? It will give them a window into just how great the danger for them really is, and they can then make a more-informed choice.

The odds of health care reform passing look to me to be already below 25%. I don't think "Democrats" want it -- I think some progressives do. Unions now wonder about this whole 'tax Cadillac insurance plans' concept, since they've spent decades trying to set up such plans for their members; Blue Dogs are watching the heat index spike; the 'health insurance mandate' is going to be hugely unpopular (especially if it actually is passed -- the one group who still likes the idea of this plan are the young folks, who will have to fork over hundreds of dollars a year for something they don't need).

Then we'll rush on to cap-and-trade, which will... um, probably also fail, because it creates a massive tax on all Americans in return for "goodwill." 'What do I get out of this?' 'Well, the people of the world will like us better; and you get to feel good about saving the planet.'

The thing is, we've already extensively market-tested the idea that Americans will be willing to pay a premium for 'saving the planet.' If Americans aren't willing to shell out the extra cash for a Prius or a Chevy Volt versus a small gas-burner, they aren't willing to impose an across-the-board tax on every item they need for that purpose either. How many people shop at Whole Foods v. Wal Mart? There you go.

If the idea is that the government needs to step up and force us to do what we don't want, let me go out on a limb and suggest that these ideas won't be popular. Failure to pass these bills is the best thing that can happen to the Democratic Party -- and the country, as it happens.

It remains true that the most important public policy right now is deleveraging: reducing debt and obligations. This is the time to be cutting free of our runious debts, especially on entitlement spending. Just on retirement-entitlements, every American household already owes half a million dollars apiece. When the dollar collapses in value, it's going to be tremendously hard on every American family -- and it's because the government won't stop spending money, and won't stop making promises to spend money.

This isn't the hour for grand new schemes of progressivism. If they pass, they'll only hasten the collapse.