We Removed Qaddafi for This?

My recollection may be faulty but I don’t seem to recall slave auctions being held in Libya, as reported here by CNN, when Moammar Qaddafi was in charge. There are things worse than evil, vicious, loony dictators and destabilizing North Africa has given us the opportunity of confirming that.

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Point/Counterpoint

At the New York Times Jacob Hacker makes his case that high income states should not subsidize low income states:

Republican leaders are betting that enough blue-state Republicans will put loyalty to party ahead of the prosperity of their state — or at least recognize that the first part of the Republican two-step (big tax cuts for rich people in blue as well as red states) may redound to their benefit even if the second (pay-fors aimed at blue states) doesn’t.

But if their bet pays off, it isn’t just blue states that will suffer. Red America may hold the key to Republicans’ control of government, but blue America holds many of the keys to our nation’s economic future. Indeed, among the blue-state pay-fors, the most troubling may be those that will bleed institutions of higher education, particularly in the House bill. In their zeal to extract revenues from blue states, Republicans are threatening our nation’s ability to excel in a global knowledge economy.

He’s writing about the proposed tax code reform plan but the argument pertains equally well to the many other subsidies which, when looked at from an ROI standpoint, mean that people who live in some states subsidize people who live in other states.

Taking the opposite position Cullen Roche explains how people who live in high income states benefit from the arrangement:

Basically, states like New York are like Germany. They produce a lot and pay a ton of taxes into the Federal Government’s coffers every year. They also get less in Federal expenditures than they pay in. So they are a net giver to the Federal Government. A state like Florida, on the other hand, is a net recipient as they pay in less than they get. Basically, Florida doesn’t produce as much as they earn so they get more Federal aid. They need this federal aid because they don’t have a currency that can become devalued so their output can become more attractively priced relative to New York’s so the balance of payments can correct over time.

This is a cool arrangement because Florida can be a net taker and never really have to worry about its solvency because it’s getting help from its friends (the rest of us). Now, this might sound like a raw deal for all those blue states in the picture below but it actually works out to New York’s benefit because many of New York’s customers are probably from Florida and the Federal aid they get means that Florida can remain solvent and not have to worry about dragging New York into some sort of recession once every few years because it doesn’t have funding.

Basically, a little redistribution makes the whole system more stable and results in more consistent growth with all the benefits & cost savings we have from using the same currency. If we didn’t have this system of redistribution then all those red states in the bottom right hand of the picture would go into recession much more often and they’d inevitably suck down the blue states with them as the blue states experienced reduced aggregate demand. But we don’t have to worry about that because the blue states’s poker chips get taxed more heavily and so the game goes on rather than coming to a screeching halt once every few decades because some of the players run out of chips.

Looking at things from a marginal standpoint and writing as someone who lives in the state with one of the very worst ROIs of taxes sent to Washington compared to federal spending in the state, I would like to ask Dr. Hacker why Illinois should be subsidizing New York and California. Because using his argument that’s exactly what’s happening.

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The Cost

In a similar vein at the Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass writes:

Democrats had their chance. And many were silent and many others were loud and public in their trashing of women to benefit Clinton. And it appears that Roy Moore is a sexual predator as well. So, 30 years from now, will the Republicans who defend him remind us that character counts?

What is lost in all this isn’t mere political advantage. And it’s not the chance to forge human suffering into a weapon and use it to bash the brains out of political opponents so that your side, not the other side, may grab the levers of government power and win great treasure.

What is lost isn’t the hysterical rantings of tribal partisans using the Moore allegations to trash the GOP while conveniently and cynically ignoring the Clinton history and the Democrats trashing women.

That kind of selective raving can be read on almost every news site now. All that is about is winning and shaming the other side. It’s all about pure tribalism and clicks on a news site. It brings no light.

Republicans see this, and they dig their heels in; they take their swings and the Democrats take their swings, and it gets even worse.

So what is lost when partisans are sent out to conveniently lie, to trash a woman for telling us what happened to her at the hands of powerful men?

And what happens when, in our desire to win at politics,we grab eagerly at such silky partisan lies and devour them as if they were nourishment in our political fights?

What is lost is decency.

America has lost too much decency already. We can’t afford to lose any more.

So go away, Roy Moore. Just go away.

The solution is to muster your courage and draw the line even when it hurts your side. Even when it hurts your career. Today we don’t just need profiles in courage. We need profiles in decency. That’s how low the standards of behavior have fallen.

And understand just where you’re drawing the line.

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I Read the News Today, Oh Boy

You know, there are some major news items out in the world that genuinely look to me as though they aren’t getting as much attention as they deserve. For example, there appears to have been a military coup in Zimbabwe:

After a night of confusion in which tanks rolled onto the streets of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, the country’s military said early Wednesday that it had taken President Robert Mugabe into custody. While the armed forces appear now to be effectively in control of the city, a military spokesperson took to the airwaves to insist that what just happened was not a coup d’etat.

“We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover,” the spokesperson said on a nationwide broadcast after soldiers took over a state-run television channel. “We are only targeting criminals around [Mugabe] who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.”

The spokesperson also said the military guaranteed the security of Mugabe and his wife, and sought to reassure the public the situation would soon “return to normalcy.”

After Robert Mugabe you might think that it could hardly get any worse in Zimbabwe. I’m concerned that’s an overly optimistic assessment.

And Venezuela has defaulted on its debt:

Venezuela, a nation spiraling into a humanitarian crisis, has missed a debt payment. It could soon face grim consequences.

The South American country defaulted on its debt, according to a statement issued Monday night by S&P Global Ratings. The agency said the 30-day grace period had expired for a payment that was due in October.

A debt default risks setting off a dangerous series of events that could exacerbate Venezuela’s food and medical shortages.

How serious is the problem?

Venezuela and its state-run oil company, PDVSA, owe more than $60 billion just to bondholders. In total, the country owes far more: $196 billion, according to a paper published by the Harvard Law Roundtable and authored by lawyers Mark Walker and Richard Cooper.

Beyond bond payments, Venezuela owes money to China, Russia, oil service providers, U.S. airlines and many other entities. The nation’s central bank only has $9.6 billion in reserves because it has slowly drained its bank account over the years to make payments.

Venezuela’s problem doesn’t seem to be debt to GDP. It’s running out of cash.

Despite their many differences Venezuela and Zimbabwe have some significant similarities. Complete and utter mismanagement for one. For another both countries could be rich.

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What About “Artists”?

The editors of the New York Times are thinking about character, too, today, in their case with respect to artists:

It’s an age-old question, and it re-emerges with the revelations about sexual predations that men with power inflicted on women and, in some instances, other men: Can we appreciate art even if it was created by someone who behaved deplorably?

The actor Kevin Spacey is accused of sexually assaulting boys and young men. The political writer Mark Halperin faces allegations of past sexual misconduct with women under his authority at work. Similar accusations have been made against the actor Dustin Hoffman, who has apologized for bad behavior.

As a result, the following has happened: Netflix shut down the Spacey star vehicle “House of Cards” and shelved a film called “Gore,” which was in postproduction and in which Mr. Spacey plays the writer Gore Vidal. HBO scrapped a planned mini-series and Penguin Press a book on the 2016 presidential election, which Mr. Halperin had written with his collaborator of recent years, John Heilemann. And suggestions have been made in print and pixels that Mr. Hoffman’s films, past and present, should be boycotted.

No doubt, the corporate suits at Netflix, HBO and Penguin decided it was simply bad business to proceed with those projects, given how toxic the men are right now. That’s understandable. But isn’t it also reasonable to ask what ultimately should be the fate of these works (and not just because deep-sixing them hurts many others who also had a hand in creating them)?

[…]

Caravaggio was a murderous thug. Ezra Pound was a pro-fascist and pro-Nazi anti-Semite. Virginia Woolf had an anti-Semitic streak of her own. T. S. Eliot out-and-out hated Jews. Picasso treated the women in his life abysmally; two killed themselves. Norman Mailer stabbed his wife. Walt Whitman likened the “intellect and caliber” of blacks to that of “so many baboons.” William Golding tried to rape a 15-year-old girl. The list could go on.

At the very least I think that knowing about the characters of these individuals should force a re-evaluation of their art.

However, there’s a serious difference between today and five hundred years ago or a century ago or even fifty years ago. Today for reasons that elude me we take artists’ political views seriously. A couple of decades ago ball players were just ball players, actors actors and singers singers. If you knew about their politics it was unusual and they certainly weren’t considered bellwethers. Now they are.

Shouldn’t their characters be taken into account in evaluating their political views as well?

I think I’ve mentioned it before but among my many mental quirks is, as I characterize it, that the personalities of performers come across the proscenium at me. That’s why there are certain film actors I can’t bear to watch on the screen, notably Marilyn Monroe. She’s just too damaged. I readily acknowledge that she gave some great performances, for example in Bus Stop and The Misfits. They’re simply too painful to watch.

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Why Moore?

The editors of the Wall Street Journal summarize the Republican Party’s predicament with respect to Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore:

A famous country song aptly summed up where the Republicans are with Senate candidate Roy Moore in Alabama: You’ve got to know when to fold ’em.

There is no doubt a sense in which Mr. Moore deserves the opportunity to challenge accusations against him for acts alleged to have happened more than 30 years ago. Though too many women were too easily ignored in the past, we do not want to live in a country or political culture in which every accusation of sexual misconduct is automatically accepted as true. Accusers can be liars too.

But Mr. Moore isn’t in a courtroom today. He’s in the political arena in which a candidate has to maintain a minimal level of public credibility to survive. And his political situation has moved well beyond a more familiar she said/he said predicament.

Several women have made detailed accusations of sexual misconduct against Mr. Moore, and multiple people now say he was known for trolling shopping malls for young girls while in his 30s. Mr. Moore’s public defenses have also been less than convincing, not least that he doesn’t know his latest accuser, though he signed her yearbook.

I find the entire matter baffling. Even without the sexual aspects of his candidacy I would find his candidacy unacceptable because of his attitudes towards the rule of law and governing precedent. But I’m not an Alabama voter.

I wish this entire matter were open to more reasoned reflection rather than the same old partisan coups counting. At what age is it seemly to consider a young woman as nubile? At what age does it become unseemly for a man to think so?

Here’s some food for thought. The average age of a Playboy magazine centerfold is 22.4 years. Many of them have been 18 or 19 and a number have been as young as 16. Do you really believe that all of the men gawking at them have been in their teens and twenties? Or have most been in their 30s, 40s, or 50s?

According to its flight logs, Bill Clinton was a frequent flyer on Jeffrey Epstein’s “Lolita Express”. Right or wrong? Seemly or unseemly? Does it matter with which political party the man was affiliated?

Just to make it clear, I don’t approve of either. I didn’t vote for Bill Clinton because I thought he was a person of low character and I believe that events have proven my assessment correct. I don’t think anybody should vote for Roy Moore for precisely the same reason. But there’s a more basic point, a much larger societal issue.

I hold more to Lew Archer’s observation: as a man gets older, if he knows what is good for him, the women he likes are getting older too.

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How to Tell the Birds from the Flowers

I found this op-ed by U. S. Representative Francis Rooney at RealClearWorld on the differences between Catalonia and Iraqi Kurdistan interesting:

Catalonia and Iraqi Kurdistan are engulfed in identity crises. While the two independence movements are the subject of frequent comparison, their situations differ because of historical, cultural, and economic ties with their respective mother countries. Catalonia and Spain share a deep and longstanding unity, while Kurds have a loose union with the rest of Iraq and lack a shared history beyond the past one hundred years. Not surprisingly, a silent majority of Catalans seems to support a unified Spain, while a clear majority of Iraqi Kurds desire self-rule.

These discrepancies call for different solutions to the two predicaments. Instead of pursuing an independent state, Catalonia should look to Italian regions that are seeking greater autonomy within Italy. Conversely, the Kurdish independence movement compares with Kosovo in the 1990s, where an ethnically, culturally, and religiously different state seceded from Serbia.

There is one sense in which the two cases are very much alike: we shouldn’t support independence either for Catalonia or Iraqi Kurdistan. Both cases would be disasters, destabilizing their respective regions. In the case of Iraqi Kurdistan independence would be likely to foment a war that would embroil not just the Kurds and Iraqis but the Iranians, Turks, Syrians, in all likelihood the Saudis and possibly the Israelis.

If the Kurds manage to wrest their independence from Iraq we might be forced to accept it as a fait accompli but it’s not something we should be supporting. Catalonian independence on the other hands sounds for all the world to me like a power grab by a handful of Catalan politicians.

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Oh, What a Wicked Web

At RealClearDefense Crispin Rovere ties himself into a pretzel to define “imminent” as “potential” and “anticipatory self-defense” as anything but preventive in discussing a preventive strike against North Korea:

On one level, war is always immoral. It involves industrialized murder perpetrated by an organized force against fellow human beings. Another Korean war would be horrendously violent, with American forces having to destroy a numerous and motivated enemy. However, the specific ethical arguments made against a military strike fail in critical respects. In sum, a U.S. military strike aimed at neutralizing the threat of a nuclear-tipped ICBM is ethically justified in addition to being strategically correct.

Nowhere does he mention U. S. treaty obligations which prohibit the United States from attacking another country without United Nations Security Council authorization. Don’t those factor into considerations of the ethics of the matter?

An attack by the United States on North Korea would be morally justified if the United States had compelling evidence that an attack by North Korea on the United States, its allies, or its interests was imminent, imminent defined as “about to take place”. What is the limit on Dr. Rovere’s definition of “imminent” i.e. potential? Would an attack on China be morally justified? China definitely has the potential to attack us and has for decades. An attack on Canada?

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The Coming Conflagration

As I read this post at the Atlantic about the ratcheting up of tensions in the Middle East, I could only wonder if, should Saudi Arabia go to war with Iran, would we enter the conflict on the side of Saudi Arabia?

The situation strikes me as something like a movie about a battle between the Mafia and vampires. The only one to root for is the popcorn vendor.

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Observation

When a neighbor comes across the street asking to borrow a cup of sugar, it’s reasonable and polite to lend them one. When the neighbor takes to the streets demanding a cup of sugar it’s equally reasonable to be concerned.

Generosity towards guests is an ancient and honorable human impulse. Reciprocity is more ancient yet. Even babies and animals understand it.

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